Council Wavers on Itinerant Merchants

BLYTHEWOOD (Oct. 20, 2016) – During a discussion last week in a Town Council workshop about the increasing prevalence of itinerant merchants in the downtown area, Town attorney Jim Meggs asked, “What exactly is the problem you’re trying to solve here?”

“I don’t know if this is a big issue,” Mayor J. Michael Ross said. “I think it bothers some people. I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about it,” and added jokingly, “telling me how good the tomatoes are. But if it comes back that Mayor Ross is shutting them down, well . . .”

Meggs offered guidance in the form of a model ordinance used by another town (Midvale, Utah) to regulate peddlers and itinerant merchants. That ordinance, Meggs said, covered licensing, exceptions, definitions, applications, badges and penalties for a wide variety of itinerant merchants including vending carts, seasonal produce, seasonal food stands, Christmas tree sales and fireworks stands. He explained that the Midvale ordinance is detailed and specific.

“It’s a commencement to see how far you want to go with this,” Meggs said. “If you go with the full Midvale treatment, you’re going to have a pretty exhaustive comprehensive set of regulations. I’m not sure some of these peddlers/itinerants would be able to comply with it.”

Meggs said there appears to be some concern in the community about the produce stand that stays on site on the corner of the former Blythewood Community Center property across Blythewood Road from the Food Lion.

“Under the Midvale ordinance,” he said, “(that stand) would have to be moved at closing time every day. You might want to consider how this (ordinance) would interface with a zoning change. Or if you have some concerns about prohibiting these kinds of activities in the Town Center District (TCD), because it may not be consistent with what your vision is for business activity in the TCD, then we’re back to ‘What’s the problem you’re trying to address?’”

Town Administrator Gary Parker suggested that if the focus is on the itinerant merchants in the TCD district, it could be handled as an amendment to the zoning ordinance prohibiting itinerant merchants in the TCD altogether.

“We might say there are not going to be any peddlers licensed in the TCD and then they’re just down the road – still in Blythewood, but not in the TCD, if we want that,” Parker said.

Ross said he was concerned that the produce stand across from Food Lion was becoming more stationary.

“He’s moved in a port-a-john over there. This is getting a little bit more so . . . ,” Ross said. “We now have a peanut man – sells boiled peanuts and sets up under a tent every afternoon on somebody’s property. We have a chicken man who brings in a trailer and unloads paintings to sell. We have birdhouses selling at Larry’s Exxon and fireworks.

“What brought my attention is that a peddler comes in and is usually there a little while, but this (produce stand) has been here two months,” Ross said.

Councilman Tom Utroska asked if the produce stand owner was paying taxes.

“To be fair,” Ross said, “this man selling produce just pays a $40 business license. The IGA, Food Lion and Red Barn pay taxes on everything they sell. They turn in their taxes to us.”

Utroska suggested permitting so much per day for a peddler’s license with a minimum amount for a maximum number of days. Parker suggested prohibiting itinerant merchants in the TCD except for charitable groups for temporary fundraisers such as the Food Truck Fridays that are held occasionally at one of the churches in downtown Blythewood.

But there was no definitive answer to Meggs’ initial question, ‘What is the problem you want solved?’

“We’re sitting here right now with only three (itinerant merchants) in the town,” Ross said. “But when we’re sitting here and there are 12 – 13 and we didn’t do anything, then what?”

Without Council nailing down how they hoped to solve their problem, or if there was a problem, Ross concluded, “I think I’m going to back off right now. If there is something you all think needs to be addressed . . .”

“If you want me to write an ordinance, let me know,” Meggs told Council members.

There was no indication that the issue is scheduled to be brought back to Council.


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