OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials this week tightened the definition on the types of goods that could be offered by the town’s ice cream truck franchisee after considerable debate about flirting with what could become a food truck.
The debate began two weeks ago when the Mayor and Council rejected a bid from a Selbyville company for the town’s lone ice cream truck franchise. Earlier this year, the owner of the town’s ice cream truck franchise informed the town he would not be able to fulfill the remainder of his current four-year contract, which expires in 2016.
As a result, town officials agreed to re-open the bidding process for the ice cream truck franchise with a due date of Feb. 9. The Selbyville company was the lone applicant when the bids were opened, but the Mayor and Council rejected the lone undisclosed bid amount and voted to rebid the franchise to a broader vendor base. However, before the new bidding process could be opened, town officials expressed a desire to tighten the definition of what kinds of goods could be offered by the ice cream truck franchisee.
The current code is restrictive and allows only for pre-packaged goods including ice cream, candy and non-alcoholic beverages. The code is also restrictive on the areas the ice cream truck franchisee can operate, limiting it to residential areas with condos, apartment and hotels and away from established businesses that might offer the same goods. For example, the ice cream truck is not allowed to operate anywhere in the ocean block areas near the Boardwalk where existing businesses also offer ice cream and similar goods.
Before putting the franchise back out to bid, town officials wanted to tighten the definition of what goods were allowed to prevent a “food truck” from operating in the town. Food trucks have become increasingly popular around the country and offer a wide variety of prepared foods in a variety of locations. The Ocean City Mayor and Council’s intent is to redefine what is allowed to be sold by its ice cream truck franchisee in order to prevent competition with existing businesses.
The Mayor and Council took up the debate last week. Councilmember Dennis Dare suggested the code as written might be too restrictive and suggested it could be amended to allow for certain other goods without crossing the line to food truck and infringing on other businesses. Dare said allowing the ice cream truck franchisee to offer other goods could improve its chances for success and prevent a similar situation where the franchisee had to default.
“Will the bid provide for any creativity?” he said. “If it did, does this allow for it? The code allows for ice cream, candy and non-alcoholic beverages, but if somebody came in here with something different that’s not a food truck, this does not allow for that.”
However, Mayor Rick Meehan said the council intensely debated the types of goods the ice cream truck could offer and warned about heading down that rocky road again.
“I thought it was very clear the definition was for an ice cream truck,” he said. “I don’t know if we want to go down that road. Do you want to start that conversation all over again? Do you want food trucks?”
Dare said he did not intend to open up the code for all kinds of offerings from the ice cream truck, but merely wanted to explore if there were certain things the truck could offer to make it more successful.
“I didn’t say that,” he said. “I’m just saying there might be something different that could make the bidder money and make the town money. I just think this is too restrictive and it wasn’t intended to be.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman said expanding the definition for the ice cream truck franchise could open a can of worms the town was not prepared for.
“I think it would be too hard to draw that line,” he said. “If somebody came up with a taco in a bag that they could microwave, that could be considered a snack. This doesn’t even allow for a bag of chips.”
The debate then switched to an apples-to-oranges comparison. City Solicitor Guy Ayres said the definition and the bid process had to have a level playing field or the proposed offerings could be all over the map.
“It just wouldn’t work,” he said. “Some bidder might come in and bid for an apple, while another bidder might come in and bid for an orange.”
Dare questioned why the definition had to be so restrictive that it only includes apples, so to speak.
“Why does everyone have to bid on an apple?” he said. “Some might want to bid on an apple and an orange. Some might bid on an apple, orange and grapefruit.”
After considerable debate, the council voted to leave the definition as it is with just ice cream, candy and non-alcoholic beverages with no other “pre-packaged” foods allowed. The ordinance was passed as emergency legislation because the bid process has to be opened soon in order to be approved and ready for the season.