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By Anna Lothson
Oak Park has only seen a taste of the food-cart trend that has stirred up discussions in many municipalities, but recent complaints from market events brought the topic before the village board for consideration on Monday.
The village has only a handful of ice cream vendors and one coffee shop/doughnut cart that fall into the category regulated by Oak Park's peddling ordinance. However, it has generated enough conversation among village staff to recommend an ordinance placing a halt on food-cart licenses while the issue is reviewed.
Trustees, though, weren't on board.
Interim Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said a moratorium on future licenses wouldn't affect those with licenses; rather, it would give the village time to review the ordinance to ensure that this niche is being properly managed. The village needs to be prepared to accommodate the reality that the food-cart industry is growing in the area, she said, and the temporary halt would allow the village to have some "breathing time" while the measure is evaluated.
"We think mobile food vendors can be good," she said. "I just think we need to have a proper balance."
Trustee Glenn Brewer was the first to question the matter, saying he didn't understand the connection between a moratorium and enforcement.
"What are we going to do to actually address the problem?" he asked.
Village Clerk Teresa Powell explained police have the power to get involved, and merchants have the right to ask mobile food carts to leave if the mobile vendor is in a spot for more than 30 minutes. Carts staying in one area too long is what sparked the complaints, Powell explained.
"We don't want to add to the total volume until we know how to handle them," she said as reason for the proposed moratorium.
Trustee Adam Salzman agreed with Brewer and suggested the village can evaluate its ordinance while still increasing enforcement measures. This can be done, he noted, without a moratorium.
Powell noted that the peddling ordinance has been on the list to evaluate for three years, but the low volume of vendors has kept it low on the list of priorities.
That fact led Trustee Colette Lueck to side with her colleagues against the measure.
"You can't set public policy based on one example," she said.
Pavlicek emphasized that the purpose of the change would protect those looking to invest in mobile food carts in Oak Park, but the board didn't think this was enough reason for a halt.
Overall, trustees agreed the village should be prepared to adapt to the food truck trend, but concluded a moratorium was not the best way to do so.
"I'm not sure we necessarily want to stifle the creativity that goes into establishing a food truck," Brewer said. "We need to step up our actual addressing of the issue."
The ordinance was struck down 5-2, with Johnson and Tucker casting the dissenting votes. Village President David Pope said after the vote that the board still recommends the village enhance its spot enforcement of mobile vendors to address the recent complaints.