Commision endorses vendor ordinance

BLYTHEWOOD – After more than a year of handwringing over whether to allow temporary vendors in the Town Center District, the Planning Commissioners voted Monday night to recommend that Council adopt the City of Columbia’s vending ordinance, presented by Town Administrator Brian Cook, with a few tweaks. That modified ordinance, basically, allows temporary vendors and food trucks the same rights and privileges as brick and mortar buildings, but with almost none of the costly architectural or other restrictions imposed on brick and mortar buildings.

That modified vendor ordinance would allow vendors to sell merchandise, goods, services, or forms of amusement from a temporary structure, such as a tent, awning, canopy, umbrella, stand, booth, cart, trailer, from a vehicle, or from his person. A temporary vendor does not include a person who conducts the majority of his business from within a permanent and enclosed building located upon the same lot.

Unlike brick and mortar buildings, vendors would not be required to provide handicap restrooms or any restrooms at all.

While the Commissioners initially worried that aesthetics of temporary vendor’s vehicles, tents, trailers, etc, could become a problem, they concluded that aesthetics for vendors would be too difficult to regulate by ordinance and moved on. Brick and mortar buildings in the Town Center District are required to adhere to certain types, quality and colors of building materials, architectural styles, signage, lighting and landscaping. There are no such restrictions on vendor vehicles, tents, trailers, etc.

Cook said he presented the same modified ordinance to the Board of Architectural Review two weeks ago and they expressed concern regarding the fairness issue when it came to food trucks locating within 100 feet of a brick and mortar food establishment.  The Commissioners responded by requiring a distance of 250 feet between vendors and certain businesses.

Commission member Rich McKenrick suggested that multiple temporary vendors might want to set up on a single property.  Cook indicated that the ordinance itself did not prohibit that but that other restrictions regarding number of parking places, safety regarding ingress and egress would apply.  The modified ordinance also restricts vendors from operating within 400 feet of residences.

After flirting with a few concerns, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to adopt the modified City of Columbus ordinance with the following tweaks:

Allow the Town Administrator to have sole authority to give written permission for a temporary vendor to operate in the Town Center District,

Increase the distance between a vendor and the front door of a lawfully established restaurant from 100 feet to 250 feet, and

Limit occupancy of a vendor to no more than 10 hours a day (24 hours). At all other times the vendors must vacate the parcel they occupy.

It was confirmed by the Planning Commission Chairman, Donald Brock, that the modified ordinance would not affect Grace Coffee. After Grace Coffee refused to continue moving its trailer off the parcel every night as it had initially agreed to do, Cook interpreted the Town’s zoning laws to confirm that Grace Coffee is now a business in good standing, compliant with the Town’s necessary zoning approvals.

Town Council will vote on the Commission’s recommendation on the vendor ordinance at its next regular meeting on June 25.