“Operation Save Shave the Planet was successful!!!” reads a Monday night Facebook status update.
Fayetteville Planning Commission members voted 6-1 Monday to approve a variance that will allow the popular Shave the Planet shaved ice stand to stay at its annual College Avenue location for an extra three months, instead of packing up and finding a new place to do business for the remainder of the summer.
For the past three years, Shave the Planet has been granted an extension to stay longer than the standard 90-day mobile vendor permit allows, but this year faced the possibility of leaving early after the owner of a nearby ice cream shop objected to the variance.
Celeste Hoskins, owner of Maggie Moo’s, said her reasons weren’t so much based on the idea that the two businesses were in competition, but that she believed continued extensions show that a change to the city’s ordinance is needed.
“I like Shave the Planet and I eat there with my children,” she said. “I am asking for an ordinance of some sort be established so that we’re all playing on the same playing field.”
Commission member William Chesser said it’s important to remember that the Planning Commission doesn’t have the authority to make changes to city law.
“This body does not create ordinance,” said Chesser. “This body interprets existing ordinance.”
In this case, Chesser said commission members were charged with deciding whether Shave the Planet’s extended presence on College Avenue creates an unfair advantage over what the ordinance calls “similar and nearby permanent businesses.” In other words, is Shave the Planet “similar” to Maggie Moo’s and is their temporary, low-cost setup an unfair advantage?
Shave the Planet owners Eric and Katy Siebert said the two businesses were not in direct competition at all.
“You can classify them as desserts,” said Eric Siebert, “but that’s as far as it goes.”
To further their case, the Siebert’s said last month’s closing of the nearby Andy’s Frozen Custard restaurant did not result in an increase in customers for their business. In fact, they said since Andy’s closed, their sales have actually decreased in comparison to last year.
Several customers of Shave the Planet spoke in favor of the extended stay on College including Andrea Lister, a mother of three children, who said the two businesses offer completely different experiences.
“There’s no place in town where I can get something for my kids for only $2 that makes them happy and content without worrying about fat content,” said Lister who added that the only time she’s ever visited Maggie Moo’s was when she had a half-price voucher. “Otherwise, I can’t afford it.”
Ultimately, the commission agreed and approved the variance. Commission member Tracy Hoskins, who is married to Maggie Moo’s owner Celeste Hoskins, abstained from voting on the issue.
The future of mobile vending in Fayetteville
It appears a major change to the mobile vendor permit process will soon be up for City Council approval.
Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty is currently working to draft a completely new ordinance this summer that will address several issues at hand, most importantly, the need for vendors to apply for extensions every 90 days.
While there are still several details to work through, Petty said he envisions a more streamlined process where vendors only need to apply for a permit every 12 to 24 months.
The ordinance, he said, may require a little more upfront work from private property owners who wish to rent space to mobile vendors. Once they prove their site can properly handle electric, water, sewer, and other required needs, they could be licensed to rent their property to any number of mobile vendors.
By setting in place locations that are already approved, Petty said he believes the process will be faster and easier in the long run, and could even lead to the creation of more brick and mortar businesses.
“Many times, in other cities, mobile carts have served as incubators for business owners looking to establish a more permanent type of location,” said Petty on Tuesday.
While new ordinances don’t require Planning Commission approval before being put to vote, Petty said he’ll likely seek input from commissioners since they’ll be charged with interpreting any new rules.
“The ultimate goal is to open the market,” he said, “but we want to make sure it’s done in a way that really helps Fayetteville as a whole.”