An Athens food truck owner is looking for approval of a vending license amid City Council introducing an ordinance that would increase the penalties for unlicensed vendors.
James Wanke, owner of the Hot Shots Food Truck, was denied a vending license by the Athens City Code Enforcement Office due to his truck being too large.
Food trucks must be a maximum of 20 feet in order to fit into a parking spot for vendors, but Wanke’s food truck was measured to be 28-and-a-half feet, David Riggs, director of code enforcement for the city, said.
Riggs said Wanke was recommended by his office to apply for a variance that would allow for the larger truck. However, he said Wanke would have to come to the city code office to make a request for the variance but hasn’t done so. The variance, once requested, would have to be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The cost to request a variance is $75 plus advertising costs, and the cost of a vending category A license is $125 per month.
The new ordinance, introduced by Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, during the Council meeting Oct. 18 and up for second reading Nov. 1, would increase the penalties for vendors who are found guilty of vending unlicensed or in unpermitted places. Those penalties include jail time, starting at a maximum of 30 days in jail for a second offense and increasing for each subsequent offense.
Currently, any person found guilty of breaking city vending regulations cannot be punished by jail time, only fined.
Risner said the ordinance came from Andy Stone, city service safety director, and Mayor Steve Patterson’s office. He also said it is in response to Lisa Eliason, the city law director, not having adequate means to enforce vending laws.
“That’s why we stiffened the penalties ... to get the attention of people that yes, there are some consequences that you probably don’t want to have inflicted upon you,” Risner said.
Wanke said he has been cited by city code officers around eight to 10 times for operating an unlicensed food truck and believes he is one of the reasons for the introduction of the new ordinance.
However, Risner said the ordinance is not directed at any particular business. Its intention is to stop vendors from breaking city code, he said, especially vendors who are parking in unpermitted areas on city property. Vendors can only be cited by the city if they are on city property, not private.
“Go down on East Union Street, and there’s 10 spots there for vendors, and when is the last time you saw a vendor there?” Risner said. “That’s the legal place to do it … but you can’t do it on Court Street … but that’s where the vendors are going.”
For Wanke, he feels as though it is a choice between financially hurting both him and his employees by shutting down the food truck or trying to keep litigating the situation.
“Would I be willing to go to jail rather than face financial ruin or have to lay off my employees? Probably,” Wanke said. “So, I mean, I feel like that’s where this is going.”
Wanke has a trial date Wednesday for the vending violations he has received. He said he will continue to try challenging the violations, especially as he also believes his food truck should qualify for exemptions to the licensing procedures for vendors.
Those exemptions can be granted for “any natural person soliciting or peddling anything which such person has personally manufactured or produced,” according to Athens City Code, which Wanke believes he qualifies for because all the food from his truck is made from scratch.
Wanke said he has received many positive reviews from the community and feels the city doesn’t have an interest in helping his business. He said he has reached out to Patterson’s office and Stone many times but has not received a conclusive response.