City may allow food vendors in parks, on sidewalks

Mobile food and beverage vendors may soon be able to peddle their wares in city parks and on the sidewalks immediately adjacent to their businesses.

Marietta City Council members expressed an interest in moving forward with a proposed ordinance change that was introduced during Tuesday’s meeting of council’s planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee.

“The unintended consequence of the original ordinance was that it prohibited any type of concessions in these parks,” noted Marietta City Law Director Paul Bertram III.

The city has been moving toward a resolution that would give more access to mobile vendors for 16 months now, said Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward.

The revisions to section 722 of Marietta’s city ordinances would allow vendors to obtain a permit to serve food and drinks at Lookout Park, Indian Acres Park, Buckeye Park and Jackson Park during specified hours, said Bertram.

Special permits would also be available to vend in East and West Muskingum Park and on Armory grounds during scheduled events only.

Finally the changes would allow Marietta businesses to sell and serve food on the sidewalks directly in front of their businesses as long as the set-up does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Bertram.

Kalter recommended introducing the changes as an emergency measure at Thursday’s regular council meeting and possibly suspending readings in order to get the law into effect as soon as possible.

“After 16 months for a sno cone, we don’t want to miss out on another summer,” he said.

Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, said he was not comfortable suspending first, second and third readings of the ordinance because it would not give due time for public consideration.

If given three readings, the changes could go into affect during council’s July 9 meeting.

In other business Tuesday, members of council’s lands, buildings and parks committee discussed ongoing issues that have arisen as a result of the city contracting most of its permitting duties to the Washington County Building Department more than four years ago.

“We definitely need to get a handle on the finances because I don’t understand what’s in the reports I’m seeing,” said Kalter.

The building department is supposed to supply the city with monthly reports including how many permits were issued on behalf of the city, how much those permits would amount to in collected fees, and how many code complaints they have received, said Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp.

However, those reports are incomplete at best, said Hupp.

“On the financial end, they say they don’t know how to break it down,” he said.

When the city requests more detailed information, they get no reply, he added.

In addition, some citizens have complained that the permitting process is convoluted and takes far too long, said Kalter.

But those complaints are not exclusive to the county’s permitting process.

Complaints about the lengthy permitting process was one of the factors in the city deciding to contract with the county in the first place, noted councilman Harley Noland, D-at large.

The city entered into the current agreement on Jan. 1, 2009. Other reasons cited for the contract were the fact that the city spent more money on issue permits than it received in permitting fees and that the city was not employing people properly certified for the process.

The current agreement is set to expire Dec. 31, at which point the city can retake control of permitting, re-contract with the county, or find someone else to handle the service, said Kalter.

Marietta City Engineer Joe Tucker pointed to recommendations he had previously offered as ways of fixing communication and transparency problems with the current system. Those recommendations include spending between $2,000 to $3,000 to update new permitting software that would allow complete transparencies with the building department’s permitting process.