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Moses Lake considers food truck, court requirements

by JOEL MARTIN
Staff Writer | March 6, 2024 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — Food trucks and food courts were the topic of a special study session prior to the Feb. 27 Moses Lake City Council meeting.

The discussion was occasioned by the Amazing Food Trucks project outside The Green Seed in Moses Lake, where owner Amy Dalluge hopes to set up a food court with as many as 20 vendor trucks, she told the Columbia Basin Herald. This enterprise requires some clarification of the Moses Lake Municipal Code, which addresses individual street and mobile vendors but not concentrated food courts.

Utility Services Director Jessica Cole said after a business owner submits the business license paperwork, it goes to several different departments for approval.

“That would include our fire department, our building department, our planning division … Each division has the opportunity to view, go on-site, conduct an inspection. Once all departments have signed off and they're ready to start, in some cases, depending on if they're cooking, or just (selling) snow cones (that) will determine whether or not they have to have inspections. So it can be a two-day turnaround process if it’s a snow cone vendor; it can be a three-week process if it's something that creates grease-laden vapors that requires multiple inspections.”

The municipal code will require some fine-tuning, Community Development Director Kirsten Peterson said.

“There's been questions about, ‘Should there be a distance between mobile food vendors and other food establishments,’” Peterson said. “(The law) currently reads that (if you’re operating within) 150 feet of any restaurant, cafe or eating establishment, you need to get permission from that neighboring business in order to continue to to open up a new business. We’ve also had another question that's based on some current language that says no mobile food or street vendor shall locate his or her vehicle abutting private property without the written permission of the owner of the abutting private property. Shall we keep that?”

The council should also consider whether to charge an application fee for a food court that will have more than two vendors on site, Peterson added.

Peterson and Cole submitted a draft of suggested changes to the code to accommodate mobile food vendors in a concentrated location. The draft ordinance would lengthen the required time to apply for the license from 14 days before the start of business to 21 and explicitly requires an operations permit from the fire department for operators with grease-laden vapors, among others. It also clarifies that the vendor must have a signed agreement with the property owner. Portable restrooms would not be allowed on the site.

Electrical power incited some discussion. The draft ordinance would allow electrical connections at permanent street merchant locations at the city’s discretion. Portable generators would not be allowed unless the noise impacts could be mitigated.

“I’m kind of grappling with the whole generator and noise thing,” Council Member Deanna Martinez said. We supposedly have a noise ordinance. At the same time … if it's a requirement for me to set up permanent hookups, and I'm just starting out in business, I'm probably going not to look at (Dalluge’s) place. Is it possible to have kind of a temporary (arrangement) while you're setting up your business while you're deciding whether or not it's fruitful for you and fits with the community, and if so, then you move to the more permanent (power supply), does that create too much hassle? I can see a lot of people or potential businesses not being interested if they have to immediately hook up permanently.”

“Food courts will be required to install all the utilities that the mobile food vendor can roll in and hook up to,” Cole said.  “That would all be provided to the mobile operator, I don't see that that burden would be on the mobile food operator, but on the food court property owner. We're not requiring them to do permanent hookups if it's just a single vendor operations; where we have more than one, we are defining that as a food court.”

“So if I owned a food court, and I had to have permanent hookups, that's going to cost me more to put in there,” Martinez said. “So, therefore, I will have to charge the vendor more to set up their business there.”

“These generators that a lot of them are using are very pretty small and pretty quiet,” Council Member Mark Fancher said. “I've got a couple for my dry camp. Go to a tailgate at Washington State, they’re going all over and it’s a hum, it’s not necessarily loud. So I think there’s a way around it.”

As the study session ended, Mayor Dustin Swartz suggested putting the matter on a future council meeting agenda.

Dalluge told the Columbia Basin Herald that she thinks the food court would be a good asset to the community once the legalities are worked out.

“ We have a 100-unit apartment complex coming up right behind us,” she said. “And we serve a lot of concertgoers and people that are coming into the local community in regards to the summer events, and it's always been a big deal. People will come in (asking) ‘Where can I eat? Where can I eat?’ … I have a massive lot that minimally 17,000 cars pass by on a daily basis, that is right off by 90. So I took it as an opportunity to share to share my wealth and to help build up people in the community.”

Joel Martin may be reached via email at jmartin@columbiabasinherald.com.

    Moses Lake Utility Services Director Jessica Cole, right, and Community Development Director Kirsten Peterson explain some of the suggestions in a draft ordinance dealing with food courts.
 
 
    Food trucks and food trailers like the one shown here have grown in popularity in recent years. However, if not managed properly they can cause sanitation problems and competition issues for brick-and-mortar eateries. The Moses Lake City Council is examining what should be done to ensure success for food truck operators, permanent restaurants and the community.