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Hot dog vendor issue brings ordinance disparities to the surface

Date: 8/12/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD While some media outlets have declared the "hot dog wars" have reached a cease-fire, a letter from City Solicitor Edward Pikula to City Councilor Jose Tosado shows that city officials have much work ahead of them in revamping the city ordinances concerning street peddlers.

Pikula said that possible ordinances that have been discussed would need not just approval of the City Council and mayor, but also special legislation by the state. While the city crafts a new ordinance hot dog vendor John Verducci III will be allowed to continue his business as usual.

On Aug. 3 members of the City Council, John Verducci and others met to discuss possible revisions to the existing ordinances. Verducci, who has been selling hot dogs and hamburgers from a trailer he parks on Worthington Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, has been the subject of a heated controversy. Verducci alleged an effort to make him move his trailer to another location grew out of complaints Mayor Domenic Sarno's cousin, the co-owner of Izzo's restaurant, made about Verducci.

Sarno told Reminder Publications the issue doesn't involve family influences or politics, but rather concerns made by other establishments in the Entertainment District concerning the crowds of people around Verducci's stand and public safety.

In an interview last week with this newspaper, Verducci steadfastly maintained the campaign to move his trailer is politically motivated. Verducci admitted that there have been some incidents around his trailer, he noted that there are usual several police officers near his trailer. He said he has made it habit to offer free food to officers patrolling the Entertainment District.

Describing himself as an honest family-oriented person, Verducci explained he buys his electricity from the owners of the nearby Fat Cat Bar and Grill and pays the Springfield Parking Authority the $10 per day per spot fee they imposed two years ago. Prior to that he would park his trailer after 6 p.m. when there was no parking fee.

He emphasized he pays all his taxes and has all the permits currently required by the city. He said the Health Department inspects him four times a year.

Calling himself a "very persistent," Verducci said he is going to continue fighting for his rights to maintain his business.

"I'm not going to give up," he said. "Right is right and wrong is wrong."

City Councilor Timothy Rooke contacted the person in charge of street vending for the city of Boston and said the city might use the Boston regulations as a template for a new ordinance that would affect any street vendor. Currently the city uses a peddlers and hawkers ordinance written at a time when vendors sold good s from carts they moved through city streets.

Rooke said the Boston ordinance restricts vendors to that city's business district, a move Rooke would like to see duplicated here. In Boston, the vendors are on the sidewalk, are charged an annual fee based on the size of the vendor's unit, must carry a liability insurance policy if their operation uses a propane tank, must have all applicable permits and licenses and must be in current with any taxes and fees,

Under the Boston model, the Police Department would be asked to approve a potential location for a vendor to ensure there wouldn't be future problems in traffic or crowd control. CORI reports on the vendor would also be required.

Verducci said that while he supports this proposal, he is "not completely satisfied."

"I'm not a na ve person," he said. "The city will get additional revenues from the vendors."

Pikula addressed the issues the city facing in writing a modern street sales ordinance in a letter to Tosado on Aug. 4. His letter describes how other cities have addressed this issue, including Washington D.C. which imposed a moratorium on street vending from 1998 until this year which the district's government came up with an equitable plan.

Pikula has recommended to the council that not only should the present hawkers and peddlers ordinance be amended, but also one for itinerant vendors and transient vendors.

"Specifically, the function and nature of modern streets elevates the government's interests in regulating what activity takes place in or on public streets. That is the dangers associated with car travel and pedestrian congestion increase the government's interest in controlling the interaction between cars and pedestrians," Pikula wrote.

Pikula sees the city implementing a change in language in existing ordinances as well as adopting a retail food establishment license ordinance as a pilot program. This new ordinance would require all food businesses that are not licensed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control laws or as a common victualler to obtain to sell food between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. The licenses would only be required within a geographic areas bounded by Chestnut Street, State Street, Columbus Avenue and Liberty Street.

Then analysis of date from the pilot program could then be used to fine-tune the licensing effort and allow it to be used in other parts of the city.

"This type of phased approach would allow the city to make data drive decisions to manage resources and hold businesses accountable towards an end of improving the quality of life in the city of Springfield," Pikula wrote.

In response to the attention paid to street vendors, Verducci is hosting a meeting at his home in Agawam on Aug. 16 of about 60 people doing business on the streets of Springfield with the intention of forming a business association.