BERLIN — Following a public hearing, the Berlin Mayor and Council have amended the town code in regards to the peddling, solicitation or distribution of merchandise.
A minor change, the issue did manage to spark discussion on Berlin’s growing visitor population and the need to protect established merchants should the town attract more passing business.
The amendment to town code requires that no one “peddle, solicit or distribute prepared food items, unless exempted under 8-53, without the prior approval of the mayor and council.” The addition was made for the sake of clarification when dealing with mobile food vendors in town. Councilmember Troy Purnell asked if it was being targeted toward a specific demographic.
“Is the purpose of this to keep the ice cream truck out of town?” he asked.
The intent was broader than that, according to Dave Gaskill, town attorney. However, there was some confusion about whether something like an ice cream truck was even allowed in town prior to the ordinance being amended. The original ordinance does already have language meant to control solicitation on public ways.
“When this issue came up, I actually voiced a concern that we didn’t need to do this because I thought what was already in the ordinance would have covered the concern of food trucks rolling into town at lunch time and setting up on the corner,” Gaskill said.
But the council worried that a growing tourism industry and generally more active town could lead to complications down the road. The peddling of prepared food in Berlin is far from a crisis right now, said Mayor Gee Williams, but the town wants to be proactive instead of reactive when dealing with solicitation and distribution of any merchandise within the public way.
“What this is in response to is a perceived market. Anybody who has good vision can see that there are a lot more people on the street than there ever have been before,” said the mayor. “So it’s something that might become an idea in somebody’s head so that’s why we’re doing it now so that we can be ahead of any attempt to do this rather than be caught with no forethought or anything.”
A major reason for the ordinance amendment is to provide some added security for the livelihoods of existing merchants who have put down roots in town. It’s not fair for transient vendors to just set up shop on the street corner with no restrictions while long-term vendors have to deal with taxes, rent and other fees, according to Councilwoman Paula Lynch.
Temporary vendors do have to purchase permits and register with the town and the ordinance amendment further hammers that in by requiring council approval specifically for prepared food merchants.
While the town is trying to stay ahead of the curve, Purnell pointed out that there is a balance between proper enforcement and over restriction. The council doesn’t want to “shut down a lemonade stand” because it didn’t come before the council asking for permission, he said. Williams agreed and clarified that this really only pertains to commercial endeavors, citing the food sales conducted by the American Legion as a prime example of what the town does not want to hurt.
“Both legions do a wonderful job with chicken barbeque. I hope they sell more chicken barbeque than ever in the future,” he said. “But it’s on their property, it’s for their benefit and it’s a service to the public and we’re not in that business. We’re trying to talk about commercial enterprises and protecting the businesses that have to meet so many other standards and do support this town.”
The council voted unanimously to adopt the amended ordinance after the public hearing resulted in no comments.