Measures an attempt to encourage street use, sociability, spending
Council is asking whether food trucks and vendors would increase street spirit in the Town of Bridgewater in an attempt to encourage its citizens to spend more time downtown.
Jamy-Ellen Klenavic, the town planner, gave two presentations to Bridgewater’s council on February 9, 2015, concerning the potential addition of a vending bylaw and the alteration of the current loitering bylaw.
At the moment, the loitering bylaw is impeding the implementation of a vending bylaw.
“One of the main things we’re trying to do with our downtown master plan is encourage people to be downtown on the streets. Hopefully, [they] spend some money down there,” said Ms Klenavic.
“Street vendors have been shown in other communities to add to that street culture we want to encourage in Bridgewater. Basically, they just make it more fun to be outside.”
But it’s hard to be social currently, as you could be fined $1,000 for simply sitting on a bench. Loafing, wandering, standing and remaining idle, either alone or with others, are also prohibited.
“When you refer back to the definition of loitering in the bylaw, you’ll see that it’s extremely broad, and it’s actually prohibiting activities that we’re trying to encourage, especially when you start talking about things like vending bylaws,” said Eric Shaw, director of planning.
Ms Klenavic said research has shown open spaces promote sociability and contribute to positives psychological well-being. Interactions build social capital and make communities more resilient, and residents of towns and cities with a vibrant street culture are happier than than those without one.
The loitering bylaw was created by past planners, and it needs to be adjusted in order for vending to be a possibility and for the downtown and waterfront master plans to succeed.
Klenavic is proposing the bylaw be repealed or changed to allow people to be downtown. Unwanted activities such as noise, nuisance or vandalism would be left for police to enforce according to the criminal code or have specific bylaws of their own.
Several municipalities in Nova Scotia already have vending bylaws, including Halifax, Truro, Yarmouth and Kentville.
These bylaws consider health and safety, nuisance complaints, business competition issues and land-use concerns.
“As a pedestrian and citizen, I love the idea of street vendors – of the vibrancy, of the variety. But as a business owner, what protections can we put in place for someone who has to pay literally thousands and thousands of dollars a year in taxes and has to compete with somebody who doesn’t follow the same rules and regulations as a street vendor would?” said Councillor Michael Graves.
Some jurisdictions charge a significantly higher fee for a vending permit to operate in a location that could potentially harm existing businesses. Others have strict restrictions in relation to vendors setting up near places that sell the same kinds of goods.
“If I’m selling an ice cream from a truck, I can’t set up right in front of a brick-and-mortar ice cream store,” said Ms Klenavic. “But just from doing some reading about it, it’s an issue constantly coming up.”
Currently, vending is permitted on private property in town so long as the zoning is appropriate for commercial activity and the vendor has the landowner’s permission.
Vending can also take place on public property if a vendor has a permit under the town’s property bylaw. This sort of vending must be in association with a festival or event and is regulated by the town’s recreation department.
Councillor Jennifer McDonald made the point of asking whether there had been many requests for public property permits outside of festivals and events.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve been overrun with requests, but there has been some interest in the past,” said Ms Klenavic.
Mr. Shaw gave an example.
“There was a gentleman who was selling hot dogs, actually, I think it was two years ago, and he had interest in doing it downtown where there was more pedestrian traffic but was forced onto private property and was ultimately unsuccessful,” said Mr. Shaw. “I think he ceased operations altogether.”
The location of vending is still up for consideration. It could be confined to the waterfront, Parkland or Shipyard’s Landing, or, it could be opened up to the entire town.
“Wouldn’t it be neat if all of those service providers that are currently scattered all over the place were in our downtown core in a central location and you could go down and buy your fish from different vendors,” said Councillor Andrew Tanner.
Vendors are currently policed by a development officer, who requires them to hold a development permit.
“It is a little bit difficult to enforce it because vendors can be really transient. So if you see somebody who you don’t think has a development permit, by the time he gets out there to try and talk to them they’ve gone,” said Ms Klenavic.
The province does have a permit system that food vendors must comply with, but those selling other products are unregulated.
Council must consider whether it will to do nothing or develop a more comprehensive bylaw to allow vending on public or private property. In turn, it must address the loitering bylaw. It’s also up to council to decide if they will treat non-profits vendors any differently than those for-profit, whether they would restrict the size of vendors’ vehicles or carts and the number of permits allocated.
A first draft of the vending bylaw will be presented to council April 13, and the changes to the loitering bylaw are to be introduced the next discussion session, after Ms Klenavic speaks with the local police chief.
“By doing this effectively I think we can enhance the experience downtown and prop it open for everyone. I think it’s a great idea. Anybody who’s been to New York City thinks it’s a wonderful idea,” said Deputy Mayor Bill McInnis.
As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin