Casper City Council Delays Vote On Food Trucks Until May
Casper City Council won't vote until mid-May on the second reading of an ordinance about regulating food trucks and other mobile vendors downtown.
Council decided Tuesday to table the second of three votes after a nearly two-hour session with a public hearing, discussion and amendments, some of which were intended to reverse previous amendments that amended the original proposal.
That was all too much for council member Dallas Laird who proposed delaying the whole thing.
"We're too premature on this, anyway," Laird said. "I've said that. But now it's confusing. It needs to be in writing. We need to have a meeting maybe just for this issue. We need to get this ordinance straight."
Besides the need for clarity, Laird and other council members said they wanted to see the results of the long-awaited downtown parking study due to be released on May 1.
Food trucks have been at events such as the eclipse, but their presence at Frontier Brewing on East Second Street downtown beginning in October raised concerns about public health, traffic and merchants.
For several months, city staff met with vendors and downtown business owners, and city staff believed they all reached a middle ground.
But two downtown business owners said Tuesday that much of that work was undone two weeks ago with amendments that would have allowed food trucks the entire week and not just the weekends, and that probably would put several merchants out of business.
Pete Owen, president of the Downtown Casper Business Association, said during the public hearing that 20 property, business and retail owners asked him to speak on their behalf because of the damage to their businesses if the council approves the current amended version of the Mobile Vending Parking Permit ordinance.
Owen isn't opposed to food trucks and is thinking of having one of his own, he said. "But I would never think of bringing one in front of another restaurant and selling my merchandise right in front of their front door."
Food trucks, unlike merchants with brick-and-mortar establishments, do not invest in downtown such as Eggington's restaurant, he said. "Could you imagine a year from now that Eggington's goes out of business because somebody's right outside his front door taking half of his business?"
Owen contacted other cities -- Jackson, Fort Collins, Cheyenne, Denver, Boulder and Sheridan -- with thriving downtowns and asked their representatives about how they manage food trucks, he said. Sheridan is the only city that allows them and it is now considering banning them because they're severely hurting its downtown, he said.
City managers and other officials of those cities told him Casper City Council's allowing food trucks under the proposed amended ordinance would be the worst decision it could make for downtown and they used the word "'devastating,'" Owen said.
"Businesses would close and close quickly, not years from now but in months we would see business closures," Owen said. "We would see vacant buildings downtown. We would see property values dropping and the tax base dropping as well. I think that's a high price to pay when we finally have something really exciting downtown."
After the public hearing, council members went through the proposed ordinance line by line to clarify language and offer some amendments.
Council approved an amendment that would restore much of the language of the proposed ordinance, including limiting them to open at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and not the 3 p.m. opening time approved during the first reading on April 3.
But council member Jesse Morgan then proposed amendments to reverse that decision, which drew a sharp rebuke from Bob Hopkins who said that would be extremely unfair.
"You're just signing the death knell for downtown restaurants," Hopkins said.
After more discussion, council voted to table the second reading and formally consider it on May 15.
After the vote to table the matter, downtown restaurant owner Jacquie Anderson later said she was relieved with the council's decision.
But the whole issue would have been resolved by the beginning of May if council had followed the recommendations of the city staff and the compromises reached by the downtown businesses and the mobile vendors, Anderson said.