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City Council meets together on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

City Council: Body faces resistance on approved increases for unlicensed vending, peddling, soliciting

Athens City Council met in special session, executive session and committees Monday evening to pass an ordinance that increased penalties for vendors, peddlers or solicitors who operate without proper licensing despite concerns raised from Athens residents and members of the body.

The ordinance, introduced by Councilman Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, amends a previous ordinance to include varying degrees of jail time and fines as penalties for unlicensed vendors, peddlers and solicitors.

Upon first offense, the penalty for those who violate the ordinance is a fine of no more than $150. Subsequent offenses within a two-year period will be met with increased levels of misdemeanors, jail time and fines, with the maximum defined penalty being no more than 90 days in jail and a maximum $750 fine.

Before the ordinance was voted on, Councilwoman Arian Smedley, D-1st Ward, said she supported the measure but welcomed a reevaluation of the current status of Athens’ vending situation. Smedley referenced comments made at Council’s Nov. 1 meeting by local food truck owner James Wanke, an outspoken critic of the ordinance who has been denied licensing by the city. 

Two Athens residents gave their input on the ordinance, including Wanke. He said vending is an important entry point into owning a local business, and the ordinance would make it more difficult for “working-class people to stay employed or start a local business.”

“When faced with a slow yet inevitable closure of my business, my decision was to not go silently into the night like all the other vendors who have already recently perished in our town,” Wanke said, “Not because of a lack of business, but because of a lack of access and the inhospitable policies, which make mobile vending all but impossible to viably maintain in Athens, which should rightfully be seen as a stain on Athens’ reputation as a city that supports local business.”

In response to Wanke’s comments, Councilman Sam Crowl, D-3rd Ward, said he would be open to talking to the rest of Council in the future to hear from local vendors about their concerns. However, Crowl said he doesn’t believe the ordinance prevented vendors from operating in the city. 

After comments from the public and members of Council, the body voted to pass the ordinance. Councilman Ben Ziff, D-At Large, was the only Council member to vote against the measure. 

Later in the meeting, after Council emerged from executive session, the Planning and Development Committee met. Mollie Fitzgerald, executive director at the Athens County Economic Development Council, or ACEDC, gave the body a presentation on economic development within the city and surrounding areas. 

According to the presentation, the ACEDC helped the county secure more than $2.8 million in grants and funding to be used for technical assistance, planning, revitalization, site development and COVID-19-related losses for companies. Additionally, Fitzgerald discussed the economic advantages and strategies behind exploring remote work in the county. 

Council then met as a committee of the whole to discuss short-term rentals after the body received many requests from residents for it to be investigated, Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said. 

Recommendations to the body from the city planning commission on short-term rentals include requirements for short-term rental permits and restrictions on non-owners to have short-term rentals.

Council members and city residents discussed short-term rentals at length, with many residents sharing their spirited opinions on the planning committee’s recommendations.

Council will be holding a public hearing on the matter Nov. 22. 


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