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PRC recommends trial run for Yamaguchi Park vendor

The Pagosa Springs Town Council will hear a recommendation today from its Parks and Recreation Commission to approve a conditional use permit for a cart vendor to sell food and drinks in Yamaguchi Park.

That recommendation is the result of several meetings between PRC members, members of the town’s Planning Commission, council, local business owners and interested residents. Those meetings were called after Town Planner James Dickhoff received a request from a cart vendor earlier this year, asking to conduct business in town parks.

As reported in the June 7 edition of The SUN, an ad hoc work group (composed of members mentioned above) met on May 30 to discuss if vendors should be allowed to work in town parks and, if so, what regulations and limits those sellers would face.

By the end of the May 30 meeting, it was clear that the work group would need more participation from local business owners before considering any park vending policy, a situation calling for at least one other meeting.

The group met again on June 11 and two days later, during the monthly scheduled PRC meeting, hammered out details regarding how a vendor would operate.

Early on (during the May 30 meeting), consensus was that vendors should not be allowed to offer retail items in the parks, a firm refusal that was maintained throughout subsequent discussions.

Rationale for a prohibition on the sale of dry goods was a twofold argument in that consumers would need food or drinks while enjoying a park, but would not necessarily need T-shirts or trinkets. Furthermore, responsible for overhead such as property taxes, utilities and paid employees, meeting participants agreed that a park vendor engaged in retail sales would most likely have a pricing advantage over local merchants.

Following the work group’s moratorium on dry good sales in the park, the case was made for specifying a location and sussing out what items could be sold after hearing from local restaurateurs Leslie and Robert Kern at the June 11 meeting.

“You wait all winter for summer,” Robert Kern said, “So you can have some money to get some bills paid, so you can make it through the following winter.

“The more that it’s taking away from us, through vendors that basically just park their cart in the garage through the winter, the harder it is for us to just make it through the winter.”

“And I’m not opposed,” added Leslie Kern, “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I mentioned Yamaguchi Park and the other little park. But to think that someone’s parked right outside my door and selling smoothies … a permanent vendor would hurt.”

Speaking to boaters, rafters and tubers, PRC member Mike Musgrove asked the Kerns if they would sell to men in just trunks or women in bikinis, Leslie Kern said that no, a sign outside their door prohibited patrons without shirts or covers, but added that their store does allow people to change and provides access to restrooms.

“The cart with bottled water or something like that, I’m not talking about that, necessarily. If they’re doing smoothies and food and things that cut into my business, then yes, that would hurt me,” Leslie Kern said.

After discussing issues of permitting (vendors would be required to secure a town business license and would have to pass an inspection from San Juan Basin Health officials) and enforcement, the group landed on a proposal for issuing a temporary use permit for the original applicant in order to see how a vendor would work out on a trial basis.

“If we could do a trial run and just issue them a permit only for the summer,” Musgrove said, “and see what happens. Just have one vendor in the park with snacks and sodas and water … just see how it would impact you guys. A cooler on wheels, no merchandise, just to see what would happen.”

“That’s the beauty, it’s all temporary,” David Schanzenbaker said. “It’s just for the summer. So if we didn’t like what happened, we wouldn’t have to reissue that permit to that person.”

Schanzenbaker then raised the question as to how far vendors would have to be from existing downtown businesses in order to have greater latitude in what would be offered for sale.

Robert Kern replied with a concern for the potential of a slippery slope, where vendors would potentially offer competing items as demand increased.

Pointing out that the Kerns’ establishment is the only one at river level, Schanzenbaker replied that, while he’s in the park (with the exception of the area fronting the Kern’s place), he doesn’t really think about walking back to downtown to get food or drinks.

Following some further discussion, the group agreed that a temporary use permit for the vendor, limited to Yamaguchi Park, would be the most appropriate course of action.

On July 13, the PRC heard Dickhoff and Musgrove present recommendations brought forward by the work group.

Dickhoff told PRC members, “We’ve identified a need in Yamaguchi Park, there’s no immediate competition for business owners to be concerned about.”

Dickhoff then asked the PRC to consider presenting a recommendation to council to approve a temporary use permit, through the summer, for a vendor to operate only in Yamaguchi Park.

With very little discussion, the PRC agreed to pass that recommendation onto council.

Council will consider that recommendation during the June mid-month meeting today at noon in Town Hall.

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