Citys appetite for street food: 130 approval

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April 12, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
With a long-term goal of citywide expansion, an enthusiastic City Council unanimously voted to approve an ordinance expected to greatly bump up the number and type of foods offered Downtown — and, council members hope, to boost the area’s vitality.

Under the new rules, anybody with a licensed kitchen or a license to use a commons kitchen can apply for a street-vending permit. Vendors will be assigned spots Downtown and be able to sell any kind of food.

Traditionally, street vendors’ sales in Minneapolis have been limited to hot dogs and prepackaged foods.

The issue attracted lots of community attention in the weeks leading up to the vote. A March 22 public hearing featured a standing-room only crowd, one mostly excited about the prospect of a Minneapolis street-food scene. However, there were some concerns about the ordinance’s limitations — such as it only affecting Downtown — while a handful of Downtown restaurant owners didn’t like the idea of having competition with smaller start-up costs.

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), whose office led development of the ordinance, said those concerns helped reshape some rules. For example, before the full council voted on the ordinance, language was added that requires vendors within 100 feet of a restaurant with an outdoor presence to get that restaurant operator’s approval. (Downtown blocks are about 300 feet long.)

Goodman also eliminated a 25-permit cap originally part of the rules, although she said the impact of that likely will be minimal. She said she expects no more than a dozen operators to apply this year.

Ultimately, the council hopes to expand street vending to other parts of the city. The rules are considered a one-year trial, to see what works, where potential vendors’ interests are and how people respond. Council Member Meg Tuthill (10th Ward) mentioned an interest in seeing vendors in Uptown, while Goodman said that at this time next year, she hopes vendors will be able to roam around the city and not be tied to a single location.

For now, though, “we’re not ready for an unrestricted environment,” she said.

Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward) called the ordinance “landmark legislation.” He said it will allow the city to grow “up a little bit.”

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Garden lease gets OK’d by council

Homegrown Minneapolis has received another official nod.

The health-inspired, Mayor R.T. Rybak-backed program is chugging along, as the City Council unanimously voted to adopt a new type of lease agreement aimed at expanding community gardens. The policy is meant to make it easier to transform non-buildable or non-developable parcels into residents-farmed land.

“It’s significant because this is the first time we’ve had a community garden lease, not a lease with broader purposes that’s been modified to suit community gardens” said Karin Berkholtz, a member of Homegrown’s Implementation Task Force.

Examples of non-buildable parcels include those that are less than 3,500 square feet in size or have less than a 30-foot frontage. An example of a non-developable parcel is one that doesn’t have access to public sewers.

A recent inventory came up with about two dozen such sites in the city, Berkholtz said.

Homegrown originated in the city’s Department of Health and Family Support in 2008, when staff was trying to figure out a way to get more people access to quality foods as an obesity-prevention strategy. Rybak added the project’s homegrown aspect, making it a program that focuses on improving health while also supporting the local economy.

In other Homegrown news, its task force recently presented a lengthy update. They touched on topics including:

Market expansion: Organizers of Homegrown envision a Minneapolis Farmer Market that’s considered one of the city’s top assets. It isn’t on that pedestal now, said task force co-chairwoman Cara Letofsky, but recommendations for improvement are being developed. Moving the market from its current location, near Target Field in the Lower North Loop, is not part of the plan.

Community kitchens: Thirty sites were identified in a recent inventory of possible community kitchen locations. Most are inside park centers; seven are commercially licensed.

Accessibility: One of Homegrown’s many goals is to expand access to locally grown and organic foods beyond the city’s wealthiest populations. The Minneapolis Farmers Market is taking a step in that direction this summer, when it will start to allow people to pay through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).