Vote tonight: Measure would considerably cut fees, allow vendors to stay longer in locations

OLYMPIA, WA — Food cart owners would save $540 a year in permit fees and wouldn’t have to move every 180 days under an ordinance the Olympia City Council is scheduled to consider Tuesday night.

The council will consider amending the city’s mobile vendor code, which regulates food vendors and others that sell from a movable location. If the council approves the measure tonight and on second reading next week, it would go into effect June 20, associate planner Amy Buckler said.

The proposal comes nearly a year after Kenny Trobman, owner of the Gyro Spot, approached the council about changing food cart regulations, saying the fees and requirement to move are onerous.

Under the proposed rules, mobile food carts would be required to buy a $180 permit once a year instead of four times a year, at a total cost of $720 a year.

Rick Nelsen, owner of Ricardo’s Wood Fired Express at Fourth Avenue and Plum Street, said he favors the lower fee. Buying a $180 permit every three months is “just absurd,” he said.

Nelsen is starting his third week selling wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches next to the California Tacos food truck that has been there for more than two years. The area is about to expand to perhaps two more food carts, said Cyndi Dickson, owner of the Filling Station Espresso next door, who rents space to the food carts.

“It’s been great for our property,” she said.

The proposal allows a permit to be renewed indefinitely, with conditions – it requires approval from the owner of the property where the cart sits, or the adjacent property owner if the cart is in a city right of way.

“The intent is to ensure the rights of property owners and reduce potential for property disputes,” according to a city staff report.

A 6-foot-wide walking area is required if the cart is in the area covered by the city downtown Pedestrian Interference Ordinance. City code enforcement officers would have the authority to revoke permits if carts don’t follow the rules.

In addition to a permit from the city, food carts also require approval from the county Health Department. Food preparation and dishwashing have to happen in what’s known as a commissary, usually a traditional restaurant that rents out its kitchen.

Ironically, Trobman won’t benefit from the new regulations. He shut his three gyro stands in April after the county Health Department informed him last year it could no longer permit his operation of cooking gyros in the open air, he said. Cooking would have to take place in an enclosed area such as a food trailer, and Trobman said that could cost $30,000.

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