PINEDALE – Emotions ran high during discussion over the Town of Pinedale’s proposed Ordinance 686, concerning food vendors, at the July 12 council meeting.
Debate lasted over two hours before the council voted, 4-1, to table the third reading of the ordinance. Councilman Isaac Best cast the dissenting vote.
Councilmembers agreed to hold a special meeting to receive additional input from stakeholders. Details of the special meeting were not finalized by press time.
The ordinance passed first and second readings at regular, public meetings on June 14 and 28, respectively.
Monday’s discussion opened with a presentation by Ronnie Tambourine, Pinedale’s planning and zoning supervisor. Tambourine conducted research on behalf of the council about food truck and trailer codes in several different communities – Lander, Evanston, Rock Springs and Jackson.
Neighboring towns largely regarded food trucks and trailers as “mobile businesses,” differentiating them from brick and mortar operations in terms of the zoning process and codes, Tambourine explained.
Tambourine concluded that Pinedale's proposed Ordinance 686 was “well off the mark” in terms of safety and public health concerns when compared with surrounding communities.
Lander, Evanston, Rock Springs and Jackson each mandated state or county food safety permits and proof of fire and wastewater inspections for food trucks and trailers, according to a spreadsheet provided by Tambourine. The communities also required mobile operations to remove all items after business hours and remain “self-contained” units.
Pinedale’s proposed ordinance, on the other hand, lacked regulations on all the matters listed above, the spreadsheet highlighted.
The maximum time a food truck or trailer was permitted to remain in one location ranged from one to three days in Jackson to 30 days in Evanston, Tambourine’s research showed. Ordinance 686, as passed in previous readings, capped food trucks and trailers at 21 days on site.
Fears from businesses and government overreach
Ordinance 686 threatened to put Highway Philly out of business, stated owner Richard Sloan. He described the town’s proposals as an “extreme reaction” to perceived fears about food trucks multiplying in Pinedale.
Sloan started his business in a fixed location a year ago after obtaining the correct permits. He emphasized the significant time, financial sacrifice and hard work put into the operation.
The restrictions were “arbitrary and excessive” – an example of government overreach, particularly the section of ordinance requiring food trucks and trailers to move every 21 days.
“This ordinance will shut down my business only – not from market competition, but from a town ordinance,” Sloan said.
Cory Henry, the landowner where Highway Philly operates, told the council that he bought the property with the intention of allowing Sloan’s business to operate there. Sloan was a good steward and any codes adversely affecting Highway Philly would also hurt Henry’s business.
Viola Villarreal hoped to open a snow cone business and remarked to the council that food trucks allowed business owners to “start out small.” A number of people with business proposals cannot afford to purchase property in Pinedale, she added.
Tonia Blanchard, co-owner of the Boar’s Pit, stated that her business was also unable to buy a permanent location.
“We would do business more here if the prices were right and reasonable,” she added.
Mike Lutz, speaking as a citizen, opposed the ordinance. The Town of Pinedale lacked “one shred of evidence” to support an argument that food trucks and trailers were causing problems for business and the community, Lutz stressed.
Any additional burden placed on food trucks and trailers was “enough to put somebody out of business” in the “highly competitive, thin-margin arena of the restaurant industry,” Lutz said.
Local government had no business “stepping in” and regulating an industry that offered a “more affordable option” to brick and mortar restaurants, Lutz argued. He proposed the council allow the free market to work in a community with a “commitment to individual liberty and freedom.”
Margaret Gillette, owner of Mean Maggi’s, disagreed with the stance taken by other food truck and trailer operators. She worried that without an ordinance, food trucks would multiply.
“I don’t want to see a food truck on every corner,” she said.
Mayor Matt Murdock underlined the fact that the proposed ordinance was not intended to put anyone out of business.
Murdock said his concern lay with a growing number of food trucks and trailers requesting permits to operate in Pinedale. Ordinance 686 would permit food trucks and trailers to open in town under a set of codes to safeguard the public.
“It is the responsibility of the council to make sure that we pass laws and create an infrastructure where businesses thrive and citizens’ welfare is protected,” Murdock said.
Councilman Tyler Swafford compared the proposed ordinance to a “guardrail” – a “baseline amenable to everyone” where the free market functioned with select regulations on public health and safety.
Town attorney Ed Wood noted that prior to 2017, food trucks and trailers were prohibited in Pinedale.
Councilman Best worried that the council was looking toward a future “based on assumptions that I do not feel are correct about the past.”
He encouraged the council to give residents the opportunity to decide whether food trucks “on every corner” were desirable or not. If a majority of the town believed that too many food trucks existed, then people could use their individual buying power to avoid mobile businesses.
Murdock steered the discussion to adding language to Ordinance 686 requiring food trucks and trailers to maintain safety and health standards.
Gillette, Sloan, Villarreal and Blanchard agreed on the need to provide proof that fire suppression, food safety guidelines and wastewater regulations were followed.
The vendors disagreed on the definition of a self-contained unit and requirements to leave items out after business hours.
“Each food truck is different,” said Sloan.
Wood proposed an additional workshop to include suggestions from food vendors before passing the ordinance on third and final readings. Murdock agreed, stating that the council’s purpose was not to “legislate on the fly.”
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