The ordeal began in January when Keith Young came before mayor and council, upset that the town had approved Clint Johnson's request to operate a mobile barbecue unit on West Main Street, just a few blocks away from his Ashley Plaza restaurant.
Residents and business owners expressed mixed feelings towards legislation that would enforce stricter rules for mobile vendors in Middletown.
The proposed ordinance would require mobile vendors operating within town limits to be granted a conditional use permit after being given written permission of the private property owner who's land they would be stationed on.
"We can't restrict them," said Mayor Ken Branner. "But if we get too many, we can deny their request."
The rules are the same for any mobile vendor, whether they are selling food, clothing or jewelry.
The legislation, if passed, will not limit the number of mobile vendors or prevent any from operating in town, Branner said. It would also not revoke any permits that have already been granted.
The proposed ordinance would only amend the town's zoning code.
What's Being Said
The ordeal began in January when Keith Young came before mayor and council, upset that the town had approved Clint Johnson's request to operate a mobile barbeque unit on West Main Street, just a few blocks away, said Councilman Chuck Dixon at the public hearing Monday.
Young, who owns Young's BBQ on East Main Street, drafted something to give guidelines on mobile vendors in town.
Johnson, who owns a restaurant in Smyrna, operates for only a few hours a week across from the Valero near U.S. Route 301. He also holds all of the paperwork to make his mobile grill legal in town.
"When I first came to Middletown, it really felt like home," Johnson said at Monday's public hearing.
Young said that he has lost 20 percent of his business since Johnson began serving his food in Middletown.
"It should be done on an equal playing field," Young said. "Let him get a restaurant and do what I'm doing, and do it right, and see where he stands after that."
He said that mobile vendors have an unfair advantage over small businesses because they don't have to pay rent.
It's not that easy though.
Glen James, who has co-owned Victoria's Famous Fried Fish with his wife for more than 30 years, said that they have to go through the permit process for every state and town they operate in.
The process to be approved as a mobile food vendor in the city of New Castle took more than a year, James said.
"Once you're in, you still need money to hold insurance and pay rent," he said.
James said that he and his wife have two mobile units, which they operate in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware.
"I get inspected every quarter," he said. "It's not a fly by night operation."
Johnson began his operation roadside a few years ago, serving chicken, ribs and soda, and eventually was able to open a restaurant in Smyrna.
His request to operate a BBQ food trailer on the corner of Wood and West Main Streets once a week, occasionally more when the weather is nicer, was approved by the town of Middletown unanimously in December.
"It's not about who's food better," Young said. "It's about the way it's being done."
The only opposition Johnson was met with by the town was the police department's concern of traffic at that particular intersection and the amount of smoke the grill produces.
One resident who spoke during Monday's meeting said that allowing the mobile units give people the opportunity of having a business during rough economic times.
Another resident, Bob Hess, said that he has watched the efforts of Middletown Main Street over the past few years and the significant challenges the small businesses have had to face.
"I have no dog in the fight, but where do we go from this?" Hess asked mayor and council Monday. "I have a vision of a Mac Tools Truck in the church parking lot across from the hardware store."
Branner said that the legislation is an umbrella for all mobile vendors and that the town will consider all requests, even those that create competition for small businesses.
At the end of the day, Branner said the town would make a decision based on what is best for the town.
Other speakers pointed out that there are vendors on every street corner in the big cities and that it's up to the people themselves where they want to eat or shop.
The ordinance will be introduced at Middletown mayor and council's regular Nov. 5 meeting with the comments from Monday night taken into consideration.
As it's drafted right now, the ordinance says in it's opening graph that vendors from temporary vehicles do not pay town property taxes are not otherwise invested in the town and its long-term success.
Dixon proposed Monday that council considers striking that out of the legislation's next draft.
So far, the new law, if passed, would require mobile vendors operating on private property to maintain public write-of-way with written permission from the property owner and to properly dispose of all grease and trash in accordance with the town's laws.
Mayor and council plan on voting on the final ordinance in December.
QUOTE OF THE NOTE
"I get inspected every quarter. It's not a fly by night operation." – Glen James, co-owner of Victoria's Famous Fried Fish