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Food truck proposal draws fire

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A suggestion to revise the City of Sequim's code regarding food trucks met with significant opposition during the city Planning Commission's meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Chris Hugo, the city's director of Community Development, brought to the meeting a proposal to allow food trucks to sell their wares within the downtown corridor during special events, including the First Friday art walks that each month bring hundreds of visitors to downtown sidewalks.
During their Oct. 15 meeting, Hugo told the commissioners that at an Aug. 21 meeting of the Merchants Committee, the committee members agreed that the current prohibition on food trucks operating in the downtown area should be revised.
(In our paper edition we said Hugo referred to a "Downtown Merchants Association," and that he was mistaken regarding its make-up.  He did not. We regret the error.)
Hugo then drew up the proposal, which would have allowed the trucks to do business downtown up to 18 days a year.
In his comments, Hugo told the commissioners the merchant committee members had "expressed that in their experience there are few restaurants in downtown that are open after 4 p.m. when these events occur."
The commissioners took no action and instead decided to continue the discussion to their Nov. 19 meeting to provide extra time for public comment.

The follow-up
As many as a dozen merchants showed up for the Nov. 19 commission meeting, with most there to express their disagreement with the proposed change.
Paul Boucher, owner of That Takes the Cake, told the commissioners he attended the Aug. 21 meeting of the merchants committee and that "there wasn't a consensus." He added that he welcomes the competition, but would seek a level playing field, noting that stick-built operations have higher expenses, including permitting fees.
He said if trucks are welcome downtown, existing businesses should be allowed to sell on the sidewalk.
Hugo said he was amenable to the idea, with certain restrictions required under the law.
Diane Drake, owner of the Sunshine Café and a member of the merchants committee, said she didn't attend the meeting Hugo attended, but questioned his conclusion. She said that at a more recent meeting of the merchants committee several members said the consensus was overstated.
"They were confused by the whole thing," she said. "That's not what happened and that's not what was said."
"I'm totally against the whole thing," she added.
Rob Owens, who with his wife, Rebecka, owns Heather Creek, told the commissioners he never wants to have a food truck parked in front of his business and pointed to a number of existing restaurants that stay open into the evening.
Olivia Schleicher, an employee of Kiwi's Fish and Chips, told the commissioners that she had visited local restaurants to tell them about the Nov. 19 commission meeting and that "42 of 44 businesses" were unaware of the proposed changes to the code.
Kiwi's owner Bryan Carter was more combative, calling food trucks "a disgrace."
"I'm 100 percent opposed."
Candy Diesen, owner of Tootsie’s, also said she sees no need for food trucks. She said she welcomes competition, but said the city is "over-saturated" with restaurants.
In the end, Hugo withdrew his recommendation and the commissioners voted to table the proposal indefinitely. Commissioner Terry Peterson told those in attendance that while he supports capitalism and competition, the city needs to provide a "level playing field" for permanent businesses and food trucks.
He said he had arrived at the meeting under the impression that the public had asked the commission to approve the proposal.
Because no one had spoken in favor of the proposal, passing it will require evidence of "overwhelming support" by the business community, he said.

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

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