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Are Food Trucks Hampering Local Businesses? Seaside Park Considers Restrictions

The 2016 Food Trucks and Football event in Lavallette. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The 2016 Food Trucks and Football event in Lavallette. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Seaside Park adopted its current mobile vendor ordinance in 2015, setting a price of $900 for a license for truck-based businesses – generally ice cream trucks and coffee or snack trucks – but some residents and business owners are concerned that the licenses may be unfair to small businesses already in town, or vendors who lease space at the town’s weekly Farmers Market.

“Those who may recall, back in time, there were issues that arose with ice cream trucks,” said Mayor John Peterson. “The issue that arose was the fact that they were sitting at street ends and simply not moving on.”

The ordinance passed in 2015 required mobile food vendors to obtain a permit for $900, and limited the time a vehicle could stand in a certain location without customers to five minutes before they had to move on. Likewise, a mobile vendor would have to move on after a sale if no more customers showed up within three minutes.

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Recently, some new vendors have appeared in town. They have not broken the law, have followed the ordinance and obtained a proper permit, but have ruffled feathers by setting up near other businesses or at the Farmers Market. The presence of a gourmet coffee truck seems to have kicked off the debate, officials said.

“As this has happened, it’s caused some consternation with the vendors in the Farmers Market, hands down,” said Councilman Joe Connor. “This person paid $900 for that license, which if you add it up, is less than the Farmers Market [businesses] pay together if they do both Monday and Friday. When you have that license, you can be here all year long doing it, and you can operate from 4:30 [a.m.] to 2:30 [a.m.].”

Connor suggested the borough council “clean up” the ordinance by putting in place additional regulations on where mobile vendors can set up shop, and the hours during which they can operate.

“We sunk our teeth into it for the first time and researched what the other towns are doing,” said Connor. “Some have a limit as to how many [licenses] can be given out, and if too many apply, it’s given to the highest bidders. I’m not saying that’s what we want to do, but let’s kick it around together and see what we can come up with.”

Councilman Jerry Rotonda said that he did not want to come down too hard on businesses trying to earn a living during the summer season, and that he invited a coffee vendor to park near his own business in South Seaside Park.

“I spoke to a lady who had a [truck] spot at the Farmers Market and they already had two coffee vendors,” he said. “She researched the ordinance, picked up her permit. She has about a $10,000 machine.”

Ordinances in neighboring communities vary significantly. Seaside Heights has the most restrictive ordinance, officials said, primarily because of how busy its streets are during the summer, and the presence of the boardwalk. Some towns cap the number of licenses, and others restrict mobile vendors to operate only on certain days or during certain hours.

One resident who spoke at a recent council meeting, Edie Klink, said her concerns were ensuring there was enough parking for the Farmers Market, as well as for the health of the business community in town.

“I agree, she has the right to conduct her business, but when the vehicle is parked in front of the Farmers Market, it is taking up spaces from the residents who would like to go to the Farmers Market,” said Klink. “This person should not be able to park across from White Oak, 7-Eleven, or other businesses. She may sell 15 kinds of coffee, but she also probably sells the same kinds of coffee they sell. We don’t have a lot of businesses in this town, and we certainly want to encourage those businesses, and by letting someone drive in and park for five hours, it’s not such a good thing.”

Peterson said it would be appropriate to review the ordinance, as well as jurisdictional concerns since Central Avenue, in particular, falls under the auspices of the state Department of Transportation. Connor said the issue offers an opportunity for residents to have their say and for the council to consider a number of options now that food trucks and similar mobile vendors have grown in popularity.

“It’s a good thing this came up, because it gives us a chance to really clean this up and figure out something to do for vendors like this,” he said. “Some of the other towns charge a lot more for these [licenses] … and have more restrictive distances for where they have to sell.”

Council members agreed it would be unlikely any policies would change for this summer, since vendor permits have already been issued. To help generate more traffic for vendors at the Farmers Market, the borough has added an additional hour, with the market opening at 8:30 a.m. instead of 9:30 a.m. It was common, many said, that people would arrive early and have to wait to make their purchases – and most other local communities with Farmers Markets began them earlier in the morning.

The market is held Mondays and Fridays from May 24 to Sept. 2 at the Seaside Park Marina lawn at J Street and Central Avenue.

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