Chatfield City Council addresses concerns regarding food trucks

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

The Chatfield City Council debated on a subject during the Monday, Aug. 26, meeting that hadn’t been brought up previously. The topic was introduced through a letter sent to the council by Chatfield resident Steve Rowland, a member of the Chatfield Western Days Committee. Rowland registered concerns regarding food trucks, be they parked outside of City Park during Western Days or elsewhere in town during the rest of the year.

City Clerk Joel Young introduced the matter, saying the letter addressed such matters and that he wasn’t certain that the formation of a subcommittee would be necessary but that perhaps the zoning commission could give some perspective on what could be done.

Rowland’s letter contended that the street vendors that appear on private property throughout the year compete with brick and mortar businesses. He also noted the vendors who set up outside of City Park – the designated Western Days concessions location – are drawing attendees away from the park and not paying the percentage the committee asks of those who set up in City Park to help cover the costs of hosting Western Days.

Councilor Paul Novotny questioned how far away from the park is too far away to consider a food stand or truck infringing on Western Days concessions contributions. He said the food stands in question are stationed on private property across from the park and that another could be part of a street dance elsewhere and not be considered competition.

He pointed out that the city has historically had nothing to do with the Western Days, excepting assistance with obtaining licenses and permits for various liquor vendors.

“It seems odd to me that Western Days Inc. (WDI) runs an event like this with the assistance of the city and we haven’t a hand in it,” Novotny added.

Young informed the council that WDI asked the city to develop an ordinance to require permits to sell in the parks and that WDI brings a list of food vendors to the city for the necessary permits.

“It doesn’t go beyond the park…as long as a food truck is on property zoned commercial, it’s presumed that they’re paying the brick and mortar business owner some rent,” Young said.

Councilor Mike Urban remarked, “That weekend, that entity is putting on an event, and those people are coming here for the sole purpose of selling food in the park. Something needs to be done so that they get a fair shake.”

Mayor Russ Smith offered, “Someone brings in a wagon on a weekend in November, they’re obviously not here for the revenue. You’d think that somebody would step forward and say, ‘Here’s that money because we made…you’re making your money off that audience.”

Novotny said, “So we’re going to make an ordinance…if we make this next step…then we need to be more involved in all the stuff that happens during Western Days. Because if you’re a block off the park, is that part of it?”

Smith posited, “This body doesn’t have much to do with Western Days Inc. Are we going to start making ordinances?”

Councilor Josh Broadwater observed that the property in question during Western Days is privately owned and that it is zoned commercial. “Are we going to start telling him that this is what we want him to do with his property? We’ve got to watch every cause and effect,” he said.

Novotny spoke again about City Park. “It’s all city property, and we give Western Days Inc. the latitude to do with it what they need. This is more complicated than dealing with rogue street vendors.”

Councilor Pam Bluhm, who is a member of the Western Days Committee, registered her knowledge of the subject. “I’ve been on the Western Days Committee for years, and we send out letters to ask for 15 percent of the gross profits after the celebration,” she said. “That pays for the parade units, insurance, postage…we get copies of health department certificates. The fireworks…the ambulance and the booster club help with that. Western Days probably costs $25,000, and when four people show up on the corner and only two make a contribution, we’re (losing). We send donation letters to businesses, and some donate and some help pay the 15 percent. That’s usually cheap – we go to fairs, and the fairs ask for $500 or $1,000 upfront – but we’re only asking for 15 percent.”

Smith stated, “Right now, I don’t think this body is ready to make a decision or deal with this.”

Young said, “We’ve taken action to prohibit activity in the city parking lot.”

Novotny brought up that the economic development authority (EDA) had discussed how to spur the development of small downtown gatherings that may include special occasion vendors, as well as that the City Council, if it were to draft an ordinance or policy, should consider the scope of such. “You can’t make something so narrow that it only works that weekend,” he said.

Councilor John McBroom said, “In my opinion, they don’t need to be anywhere downtown, close to where there are restaurants.”

Smith called for the conclusion of the discussion as he commented, “In my world, a friendly conversation goes a long way.”

Other business

In other news, city engineer Matt Mohs, of WSB, presented a proposal to update the city’s stormwater capital improvement plan at a cost of $3,000. Mohs shared that the plan was established in 2015 and that Old Territorial Road should now be part of it. Councilor Broadwater made a motion to approve the update, and his motion was seconded and passed.

Bluhm gave a public services committee report, citing that the emergency medical services staff is perusing changing offices, that the committee had discussed no parking and the speed limit on Burr Oak, and also that the 2020 census is approaching and volunteers will be needed.

In the mayoral report, Smith shared that the council and staff had reviewed the proposed preliminary budget during a Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting and that the final levy will be adopted during the first meeting of December.

In his report, Young added that there will be a League of Minnesota Cities regional meeting held on Oct. 30 in Spring Valley and that councilors are welcome to attend.

The consent agenda included scheduling a public hearing set for Monday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. or later for the vacation of an alley near Hawley Street, and calling for a public hearing regarding bond issuance for Chosen Valley Care Center on Monday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. or later.


Clarification to the above story

Regarding Chatfield City Council discussion on a letter sent to the council by Chatfield resident Steve Rowland, a member of the Chatfield Western Days Committee, about food trucks not contributing to the annual celebration, Matt Hanson said that this doesn’t apply to all food vendors. He said Hanson and Girls Concessions and Matt Hanson have given payment to Western Days every year for the past 15 years. A Western Days official confirmed that and also stated that Stumpy’s has paid the fee as well.

The Chatfield News is concerned about accuracy, fairness and completeness in its news reports and headlines. If a report is determined to be wrong or misleading, a correction will be published in this space. Phone 867-3870.