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Got a license for that cart?

Owners of vending carts in downtown Rochester will pay twice as much for an annual city permit and be subject to other new restrictions as part of an ordinance change that's headed for an upcoming city council vote.

The change is intended to "level the playing field" between food carts and conventional restaurants, said city Development Director Doug Knott, who presented the new ordinance to the city council at its Committee of the Whole meeting Monday.

Carts selling food, fresh-cut flowers, balloons and news publications would all be subject to the change, which would raise the permit fee to $300 from $150, and impose a 75-foot separation between carts and businesses selling similar kinds of items.

The ordinance would set a limit of six carts downtown — including three in the Peace Plaza — and award the permits on a first-come, first-served basis.

The size of the cart also would be limited, though the exact size has not yet been set. Last year, some street vendors set out several tables, a cooler, and a stand for their cash registers — "essentially an abuse of the city ordinance," said Jon Eckhoff, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance, which formed a committee that spent several months studying the issue before making a recommendation. The proposal was based partly on ordinances from other cities.


The committee found value both in the street vendors, who are seen as adding life in downtown, and the traditional restaurants, some of which pay taxes totaling $10,000 or more, Eckhoff said.

"Both sides of the issue were tried to be respected," Eckhoff said. "We want to make sure it remains profitable for them (vendors), yet also fair to restaurant businesses."

The initial proposal to the city council called for an $850 annual permit and for criminal background checks on operators. But ultimately the council agreed that the price increase would have been too steep, and that it's unfair to screen street vendors when other businesses' employees aren't.

The new ordinance will include a "sunset" provision in which it expires next February. That means the council will review the ordinance, perhaps to tweak it once more before the summer of 2012.

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