Business parcels? County Council delays seasonal vendor ordinance introduction

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County’s attempt to streamline the permitting process for seasonal food and produce vendors is serious business.

County Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, thinks business-zoned properties should be considered.

County Council voted 4-1 March 31 to delay introduction of a proposed ordinance, acting on Mr. Cole’s recommendation that areas zoned B-1 be examined and possibly added to commercial properties already imbedded in the original proposal.

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“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t include neighborhood business – B-1, because the difference between B-1 and C-1 is very little, except for like car lots and mini storages,” said Mr. Cole.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Lewes, voted “against delaying introduction, saying the ordinance should be adopted now and possibly amended later, if needed.

“It’s the end of March. The season is coming on us pretty soon. I really would like something basic adopted,” Ms. Deaver said. “Time is of the essence here as far as the season for selling for these vendor carts …”

At the March 17 meeting, County Council fed feedback to County Administrator Todd Lawson, County Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank and Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson in formulating a County Code amendment that could eliminate the requirement of seeking a conditional use and in most cases the need for a variance or special exception, process that can be expensive, lengthy and in some instances over-burdensome.

As presented, the draft covers commercial properties – C-1 (General Commercial) and CR-1 (Commercial Residential). For the proposal to include B-1, it would have to be rewritten.

Mr. Robertson explained that one of the reasons B-1 was not included “was because B-1 is sort of more restrictive to start with” and that zoning generally has smaller parcels than C-1 and CR. “You could end up with a stand on an already limited sized piece of property,” Mr. Robertson said.

“B-1 is the most restrictive commercial district that we have,” said Mr. Lank. “The majority of them are small … and limited on what they can do. A lot of those parcels wouldn’t work for the type of activity intended because the development that is already there has already totaled out the use of the property.”

Under current County Code, certain vendors such as food trucks, food carts, produce wagons and merchandize kiosks are required to apply for a conditional use of land to legally operate on commercially zoned property.

The proposed amendment would implement a “counter review” and eliminate the conditional use public hearing process.

Meeting the following criteria would qualify the applicant for a permit:

  • C-1 and CR-1 property zoning only;
  • Temporary and removable vending stand, including food trucks;
  • Six months or less;
  • One stand per parcel;
  • Activity must be approved, in writing, by property owner;
  • Drawing that indicates the stand location;

A “kick-out” clause would allow the Planning and Zoning Director to require the applicant to seek a special use exception through the Board of Adjustment if there are concerns regarding location, parking, neighboring properties or good cause.

Evidence of a valid state of business license is also required.

Among Council members’ other concerns or issues: seating, parcel size and differences among types of vendors.

“Is there a difference if the people come in and sit down or if they just pick up things?” asked Ms. Deaver.

Councilman George Cole suggested that the ordinance stipulate vendors without seating; if seating is required it would fall under the kick-out clause.

“You might see one table one time; then all of a sudden see 10 tables. In other words, it could get out of control,” Mr. Cole said.

Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, said he sees a difference between a local farmer selling fresh sweet corn and a vendor selling barbecue chicken that could be eaten on site, which might necessitate a wash station or outhouse-type facility.

“It’s hard to bring everybody under the same roof,” said Mr. Wilson. “You can’t put them all in the same basket. I’ve done both.”

“This ordinance does not address any of those types of activities – including seating and providing services like restrooms,” said Mr. Lawson, noting the intent was to provide a streamline process where applicants come in, qualify for a permit and go out and do their business.

“If they (potential vendors) start going above that threshold with seating, with temporary bathrooms, with washing stations then we can draft it so if they go over the threshold … then they go through a more robust process,” said Mr. Lawson.

“The last thing we want to see are port-a-johns sitting out in the middle of the parking lot,” said Mr. Cole.

Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, asked if the ordinance might include all types of temporary vendors, not just limited to food-related or agricultural products. He made reference to the sale of firewood along U.S. 113 in Dagsboro.

“If we expand it beyond this – and this comes from some of the feedback we heard at our last meeting – to the sale of goods; somebody that wants to sell lamps, that goes well beyond the intent what we were being asked to provide, meaning staff,” said Mr. Lawson. “The activity was clearly defined in the ordinance as temporary and removable vending stands including food trucks. But we specifically said – based on the discussion – selling food, food related, or agricultural products.”

County Council is off this week and the proposal is expected to be addressed at the April 13 meeting.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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