Food trucks pose regulatory questions in Burnsville

Gustafson raises issues, sits out votes, discussion

Dan Gustafson didn’t know what he’d be stirring up when he consulted with the city attorney on the legalities of operating a food truck in Burnsville.

Gustafson and attorney Joel Jamnik discovered unforeseen obstacles to food trucks’ ability to do business in town.

Other questions followed from city staffers, such as whether the city should issue annual vending permits for its parks and whether street peddlers should have to limit their products to food.

Gustafson happens to be a City Council member and one of only two permitted food-truck operators in Burnsville. He has limited his involvement to raising issues as a businessman in a largely uncharted market niche in Burnsville with growth potential.

On June 5 he recused himself from a vote on an issue he brought to light – that the city required a conditional use permit each time a vendor was invited onto private property to sell food. The council struck down the requirement.

Gustafson, who has a transient merchant permit for the business he launched this spring, also recused himself from a June 26 work session discussion that touched on another of his objections to current city ordinance.

It limits on-street truck and trailer parking in residential neighborhoods to only loading and unloading if a vehicle weighs more than 5,000 pounds.

That’s counter to common practice in Burnsville, where the cable guy and the lawn-care operator often park on the street while performing their duties.

Gustafson’s Wicked Palate food trailer alone weights 7,200 pounds, and the Suburban he uses to pull it around weighs 6,200.

Officials agree that, too, needs changing in current ordinance. But there’s more.

The council gave the go-ahead June 26 to developing a food truck ordinance, which would be in addition to the ordinance regulating peddlers, solicitors, transient merchants and parking and stopping of vehicles.

The council green-lighted development of a policy by parks officials for vending in city parks.

The city has received a request for annual vending permits for city parks. The current park ordinance allows vending in parks only by permit. Policies and permit fees are geared toward one-day or shorter events. Only Nicollet Commons Park in the Heart of the City has a specifically created seasonal vending permit.

Current city practice has been to not allow vendors in parks (except Nicollet Commons) unless they’re associated with an event – like the soccer tournament Gustafson was invited to work this weekend at Rose Park.

The park ordinance is silent on what a vendor can sell – just food, or merchandise?

One vendor sought permission for an Avon booth in Nicollet Commons Park to sell sunscreen, said J.J. Ryan, recreation and facilities superintendent.

“Food and beverage is an easy place to draw the line,” Council Member Mary Sherry said.

Other sales amount to “commercialization of the parks that I don’t think is appropriate,” Council Member Dan Kealey said.

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz is concerned about private vendors in or near parks competing with nonprofits such as Baseball Association 191 and the Burnsville Athletic Club, which pour their revenues back into youth programs.

Some council members also raised concerns about food trucks competing with taxpaying, brick-and-mortar businesses, as in the case of Nicollet Commons, which is near many restaurants.

“The cost of a permit to do that has to be commensurate with the business” while creating “a level playing field with the brick-and-mortars that might be just across the street,” Kealey said.
Food truck ordinance

Food trucks aren’t defined in current city code. They qualify as part peddler (going from place to place or vending in the street) and part transient (parked in a lot or a fixed location).

Gustafson has plied mostly that end of the business, selling his American fare by invitation at places of business including Asset Marketing, the Minnesota WorkForce Center location in Burnsville, Northern Tool and Equipment and Business Card Service.

A food truck ordinance could limit vending in public right-of-way to food while restricting other types of vending.

“Many other cities have such ordinances,” said a city staff report.

A food truck ordinance might “even identify food truck pads or acceptable vending areas within the city,” the report said.