Streamline process sought for seasonal food/produce vendors

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County government wants to streamline the permit application process for seasonal food and produce vendors yearning to set up shop on commercially zoned property in unincorporated County jurisdiction.

In a follow-up from initial discussion last August, County Administrator Todd Lawson last Tuesday unveiled a proposed County Code amendment; a process that would eliminate the requirement of seeking a conditional use, and in most cases eliminate the need for a variance or special exception.

“It is very important to understand from the beginning that we are referencing vendors that only operate on commercial property; property that is zoned commercial,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson. “It is also very important to realize as we heard you all loud and clear last year that the vendors we are talking about are not your typical farm markets, produce stands, roadside stands that you see scattered across this county, selling farm goods. They are selling legally on AR-1 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 a commercially zoned property.

In some instances, the vendor is also required to apply for a variance through the County’s Board of Adjustment.

“This process is expensive, lengthy in some instances and over-burdensome,” said Mr. Lawson, who cited Hocker’s BBQ trailer as an excellent example. “We had a specific vendor … selling their own product on their own property in front of their store. And they spent thousands of dollars to be approved to do that. I would think any of you would rate that over-burdensome.”

Lawrence Lank, County Planning and Zoning Director, said the conditional-use process usually takes anywhere from four, to six to eight months.  “To get to that process, Board of Adjustment process takes 8-10 weeks,” said Mr. Lank.

“Our code right now actually over-regulates this,” said Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson. “What we’re trying to do is streamline.”

As presented March 17, the proposal would implement a “counter review” and eliminate the conditional use public hearing process and thus the amount of time that it can take.

An applicant meeting the following criteria would qualify for a permit under the proposal:

  • Property zoning: (C-1 and CR-1 only);
  • Activity: Temporary and removable vending stand, including food trucks;
  • Length: 6 months or less;
  • Amount: One stand per parcel;
  • Size: 162 square feet or less (average size of a parking spot);
  • Permission: Activity must be approved, in writing, by property owner;
  • Plan: Drawing that shows the stand location;
  • Kick-Out: Clause that allows 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.

If the application meets all checks and requirements in the counter review, the permit process could conceivably be completed, start to finish, in one visit to the Planning and Zoning Department in the County Administration building on The Circle.

“It could literally be a ‘one day, walk in, walk out you’re good to go exercise’ with the County. If he (P & Z Director) has concerns – they are taking too much space, it doesn’t meet minimum parking requirement; if we think their activity is sort of outside their intent of this proposal – then he could say, ‘I’d be more comfortable taking this into the Board of Adjustment,’” said Mr. Lawson. “If there are concerns we built in what we are calling a ‘kick-out’ clause that would require or allow the director … to require the application to go through a hearing; not the same hearing process that is in place right now. The ordinance would require a single hearing through the Board of Adjustment. This allows public input … it’s one hearing, not two. It’s one board, not two. It’s very quick comparing to the conditional use.”

Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, requested definitive clarification on the intent.

“But truly the goal here is to make Sussex County more business friendly; in the end streamline the process; keep it relatively inexpensive … because we do want to make it a more simple process for our residents who want to go out and create an income and provide for their families,” said Mr. Arlett. “That’s what the goal is, correct?”

County Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, served some food for thought.

“I would like to have the council to consider that we just include food related items which fold into the popularity of food trucks and of course in Sussex County the popularity of fresh produce,” said Mr. Cole. “I would like it to actually be clear that it is food related vendors.”

“We have only heard from prepared food type vending and ‘ag’ related products,” said Mr. Lawson.

Council also discussed several issues, including applicant proof of a business license or food-related health certificate.

“Yes, 100 percent yes,” said Mr. Cole. “It makes the playing field even.”

“Why should somebody go out and get the approval (state certificate) of doing something if they are not going to get approved here with us?” said Mr. Arlett. “That would be an added expense on them with no guarantee that they are going to be allowed to do that.”

While the County’s intention is to lessen regulation in this matter, County Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, remains steadfast government already has too much regulation.

“We are supposed to be a complaint driven council here, correct?” said Mr. Wilson. “Why in the world do we have to get our nose in somebody else’s business? It’s foolishness.”

“We are trying to be part of the solution … Sam,” said Mr. Arlett.

Input and feedback will be considered in a formulating proposal to be brought back for County Council consideration and possible introduction. The regular public hearing process would follow.

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.