Over the past few years, Soldotna city officials have emphasized a goal of making the city business-friendly. It’s one thing to say a city is accommodating to business development, but it’s another to take action that fosters business growth while watching out for the community’s interests.
This week, the Soldotna City Council took up changes in city code that would make it easier for mobile food vendors to operate inside city limits.
The rewrite of city code has been a year in the making, as the city administration has solicited input on how it issues permits. To this point, mobile food vendors have operated under special use permits, with restrictions, such as the number of days the business could operate, that discourage vendors from setting up shop in Soldotna.
Under new guidelines, mobile food vendors will still need to have a permit from the state Division of Environmental Health and be licensed to collect Kenai Peninsula Borough sales tax, but other restrictions would be eased. Business owners and city administrators say the current regulations are geared more toward special events — such as this weekend’s Kenai River Festival — or to traditional brick-and mortar establishments, rather than entrepreneurs looking to manage a full-time business operation.
Mobile food carts are adding a new dimension to the local dining experience, and in fact reflect a nation-wide trend. There are a number of food carts in the Soldotna area, dishing up everything from burgers to tacos to waffles to barbecue to Thai cuisine.
Some brick-and-mortar business owners weighed-in with the council with their concerns about the influx of mobile food businesses, so the issue is headed back to the city’s planning and zoning committee before it will be resolved.
However, making commonsense changes to city code to accommodate a growing type of business — while still requiring the business to be properly permitted — shows the city is following through on its goals of fostering business growth.