Council opens door to vendors

Vendor Johnny Dial runs a vegetable stand across from the Food Lion on Blythewood Road. | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – Town Council passed a temporary vending ordinance last week that opens the door for vendors to set up shop in the Town Center District (TCD).

The ordinance, which took more than a year to pass, is a City of Columbia ordinance knockoff that basically allows street vendors to begin operating in the town if they are permitted by a property owner to locate on their property, leave the premises every evening and acquire the proper temporary vendor permitting from Town Hall. There are a few specific regulations for different types of vendors.

Food trucks must locate more than 250 feet from the door of a lawfully established eating place unless the owner of that eating place provides a letter of consent.  Seasonal vendors and food trucks must obtain a zoning permit prior to operating in the town and must locate within a district that otherwise permits that type of business. Vendors located within 400 feet of a parcel zoned residential are not allowed to operate between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., and vendors cannot operate more than a total of 10 hours within a calendar day.

Vendors are generally allowed to operate at the same time the other businesses in town are open.

Unlike brick and mortar businesses in the town, vendors are not required to adhere to architectural review standards. A business owner in the TCD who is prohibited from painting his building garish colors could come in with those same colors as a vendor without penalty. There are no architectural review requirements or restrictions for temporary vendors.

Still, vendor Johnny Dial, who has manned a vegetable stand across from the Food Lion on Blythewood Road for most of the past three years, says the rules are too tough on vendors.

“Having to move out every night, pull up stakes and come back the next day and set up is a lot of work.”

But Dial also says it is too expensive to lease a building.

“People don’t like to buy produce in a store. They like to buy vegetables in open air markets,” Dial said.

Dial purchases most of his vegetables from producers in Lexington County – Moneta, Mr. Rawl’s and William’s Produce – who deliver the products to him.

The ordinance defines ‘temporary vendors’ “as a person who sells merchandise, goods, services or forms of amusement from a tent, awning, canopy, umbrella, stand, booth, cart or trailer, from a vehicle, from his person or other temporary structure.”

A food truck is defined as a licensed, motorized vehicle that includes a self-contained or attached trailer kitchen and the vehicle is used to sell and dispense food to the general public.

Grace Coffee, although it looks like a vendor, does not have to pull up stakes and leave every evening like the other vendors. It is allowed to stay on premises 24/7/365 like brick and mortar businesses, but is not bound by architectural review restrictions and regulations that brick and mortar businesses are bound by. Grace Coffee has been declared by Town Hall to be a ‘business in good standing.

Cook said the term ‘temporary vending’ has to do with venders who are only in town for the day, but leave after business hours.

The temporary vending ordinance was recommended for approval by the Planning Commission on April 4. It was also shown to the Board of Architectural Review (BAR). While BAR members were not given any authority to make changes or vote on the ordinance, they asked that there be some criteria addressed for standards dealing with the architectural appropriateness of vendors.

“I really have a struggle with the fairness of this,” Jim McLean, co-chair of the BAR said. “Are the brick and mortar stores being undercut? They have made a hard investment in the town and have to abide by the BAR regulations and restrictions. The caveat of unfair competition needs to be addressed.”

Appearance of the vendors was not addressed by Council when it passed the ordinance last week.

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