Henry’s Diner & Reconsidering Carlton’s Proposed New Mobile Food Unit Laws

A couple of members of the letUMeat Team attended the City of Carlton Planning Commission meeting at on Monday night, July 7. Up for discussion: the new proposed “Mobile Food Unit Laws” for Carlton.

Earlier this year, the city council initiated the amendment of the current Carlton Development Code to include regulations for food carts. Because…. why not?

Currently, the Carlton Development Code allows temporary uses such as food carts in commercial zones, but it does not have any specific development standards for these types of uses. Requirements for food carts are primarily governed by state administrative rules, regulated and inspected by the Oregon Health Authority and county health departments. So we should be covered, right? Apparently not.

In the interest of not starting with a blank slate for coming up with these rules, the city looked at other cities around Oregon and their laws. Their draft was created by adopting a number of points from the City of Hermiston’s standards. From the February 3, 2014 City of Carlton Work Session Memordandum, the following regulations are up for consideration:

  • Food cart vendors are required to obtain a mobile vendor permit that is valid for 180 days. At the end of the 180 day period, the vendor must vacate the site and obtain a new permit for a different location. Note: Since the Carlton Planning Commission reviewed the Hermiston draft food cart regulations, Hermiston adopted revised standards that require the vendor to move their location every day, and be at least 400 feet from a restaurant.
  • Only one mobile food vendor permit may be issued per lot. Note: The Carlton Planning Commission discussed allowing an exception to this if the proposed food cart development went through the site review process.
  • Food carts must be located on a paved parking area and may not block needed parking or maneuvering areas, nor encroach on a public right-of-way.
  • Temporary seating such as picnic tables is required; however, covered seating structures are prohibited, except for a removable umbrella on a single pole.
  • County Health Department approval is required.
  • Food carts must remain in a mobile condition, may not remove wheels at any time.
  • Food carts must be self-contained, no City or private water/wastewater connections are allowed.
  • Electrical use must be of a type of connection which can be quickly disconnected and comply with applicable safety laws.
  • Hours of operation are limited to 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Exemptions are created for charitable organizations, and food units operating on City owned property with City council approval.

Seems like a pretty strict starting point, wouldn’t you think? Oh, and also to mention: at this point in time, do you know how many Mobile Food Units exist in Carlton? One.
 

Henry’s Diner is a bright blue trailer that sits on the SE corner of Main and Pine St in Carlton, smack in the center of town. Picnic tables are set on the grassy lawn surround the trailer and small trees and potted flowers make it an inviting-looking place to stop and eat. Henry’s was opened by sweetheart couple Joseph Zumpano and Katie Koenig in March 2013, after they moved from Washington DC and away from Joseph’s corporate restaurant job, closer to Katie’s hometown of McMinnville. They serve breakfast and lunch from Friday to Monday and dinner on Monday nights. In just 15 months, Joseph and Katie have created a successful business and a great sense of community with the other local businesses and their very loyal guests. Oregon Live’s Stephanie Yao Long’s claimed Henry’s Diner her “favorite new brunch anywhere in Oregon” in last month’s “Where to Eat in Oregon Wine Country Right Now” article. In May, Oregonion food critic Michael Russel (@tdmrussel) tweeted Henry’s Diner was the “best brunch I’ve had of 2014”.
It so happens that implementation of the proposed Mobile Food Unit rules would force closure of this sweet little spot.

Henry’s Diner currently sits on a private lot for which Joseph pays rent, in the same spot since opening last year. The trailer is on a gravel pad, as Joseph nor the land owner saw any need to lay expensive and environmentally unfriendly pavement in the area. He has a dumpster on site, as well as two large grey water tanks that he pays to have emptied regularly. All of these factors would be against the proposed new laws, if they were to be passed.

So when Joseph sent a call out to his community for support of Henry’s Diner at the Planning Commission’s Work Session meeting, people came running. Chairman Mark Miller claimed it was the most company they’ve had for a planning commission meeting since he joined the board in 1981. People filed into the tiny City Hall meeting room, filled all of the chairs, even forcing some people to stand. Which they did, for a 2 hour meeting (there was also a 1 hour public hearing about a new subdivision in Carlton) in order to voice their support of Henry’s.

One by one, each guest expressed their appreciation for Henry’s Diner, Joseph and Katie: for the service they were offering to the community, for the support of the other businesses in the area, for their delicious pancakes. Joseph spoke of his love for the town and the people he serves, plus submitted a 200+ signature petition in support of Henry’s Diner. Katie even read a letter from a friend and regular who had recently moved to Taiwan and couldn’t be there to speak in person.

Perhaps one of the most touching moments of the meeting was when a timid Thai woman spoke. Her bright pink food trailer was actually locked, unused, in the lot across the street from City Hall. She has recently moved to the area with her husband and two children and has a dream of opening a Thai food cart to help support her family. The proposed rule that the trailer would have to move every 180 days is enough to discourage her entirely and she was in near tears expressing her loss for what to do.

After the meeting, one thing was incredibly apparent: the Planning Commission and City Council needs to seriously consider the proposed laws and amend them to not have such a great negative impact on this successful existing business.
A proposition was made that the Planning Commission would create a committee to specifically discuss the issue and come up with a set of rules that made sense for the city and Henry’s Diner. And Joseph Zumpano would be on the committee. There is plenty to be discussed.

Score one for the little guy.

 

Henry’s Diner:
Open Fri-Monday 8-2, Monday night suppers
Also join the letUMeat Chefs for Pop Up dinners at Henry’s Diner every second Friday. The menu always features produce from MurdaMtn Farm and other area producers. The next Pop Up is Friday, July 25.

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