Update April 28, 2021: Committee okays Algonquin Café food truck for Brendale Square while it debates wider policy
You could be forgiven if you thought the issue of where to allow food trucks seemed like a lot of smoke and mirrors at Monday’s council meeting.
Huntsville Councillor Bob Stone tried to amend a motion that seemed to target Brendale Square and the Algonquin Café specifically. The amendment would have ensured no exemption could be made to the Town’s current bylaw, which only allows one food truck per property, within 300 metres of the Downtown Huntsville Business Improvement Area (BIA).
Stone, who sits on the board of the BIA, also noted that the same amendment would not affect properties like Boston Pizza, which last year contained three food trucks, or Canvas Brewing Co., which he said plans on having two because the Town’s existing bylaw states that properties that contain a restaurant are exempt and can have multiple food trucks.
Stone’s amendment was in response to a request by the Town’s chief bylaw enforcement officer Andrew Stillar asking council to give him the authority to approve more than one food truck on a property, specifically at 6 John Street, which forms part of what’s popularly referred to as Brendale Square.
Stillar noted that council had already approved more than one food truck on that same property last year when it allowed the Algonquin Café to put a food truck there alongside the Thai Hut. But since licences of occupation for food trucks run from May 1 to October 31, permission for 2021 would be required. He also said interest to locate a hot dog cart on that same property had been expressed by another food vendor but an official application had not yet been received.
“I’m concerned about our year-round, brick-and-mortar restaurants in the BIA,” said Stone. “I’ve spoken to several of them in the past couple of days and asked the simple question: do food trucks impact your business? The answer was emphatically, absolutely, yes, for lunch and probably a little for dinner.”
Deputy Mayor Nancy Alcock spoke to Stone’s suggested amendment and said she didn’t think it was “an entirely equitable policy if it was approved, so I’m really uncertain about it. That space [Brendale] has created a bit of a buzz for people who might go have a beer at Canvas [Brewing Company] and want to eat something—it’s right there. I’ve talked to lots of people who find it’s quite a creative space.”
Councillor Tim Withey asked Stone how he came up with the 300 metres suggestion.
Stone responded: “The quick answer was I threw in an arbitrary 500 metres to begin with, and then thought, well, maybe that’s too much. The 300 is probably a short walk from the downtown.”
“Then if it’s a short walk from the downtown are you accomplishing the goal of protecting the restaurants?” questioned Withey. “I understand where you’re coming from with this… I’m just not sure that you’re accomplishing what you’re after with this.”
Stone recently tried to get the owner of the parking lot at Brendale Square to lease space for BIA patrons while the downtown was undergoing construction but in the end the owner said he was not interested.
Councillor Dan Armour said he was not prepared to vote on Stone’s amendment. He said he wanted to see a better report from staff. “I think we’re just throwing darts here on what the 300 metres [are], and who is it going to affect, and how many food trucks were established here last year that it [Stone’s amendment] will affect this year…”
Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano said last year when council granted another licence of occupation for the Algonquin Café food truck at the Brendale property “we considered it quite quickly because we were dealing with COVID. Now we’re still dealing with COVID but we’re also dealing with Main Street, which is completely shut down for construction this year so it might change just how we looked at things last year. But the other thing is we do have a bylaw in place… that says one refreshment vehicle per property. I believe it has a different restriction if the property is owned by a restaurant.” She added that she would also like to see staff compile a report which would include the existing bylaw in order for council to determine “what we want to see with refreshment vehicles throughout the town.”
Others like Councillor Dione Schumacher noted that while she fully agrees with supporting local restaurants, Algonquin Café is a year-round restaurant that also has a food truck at the Brendale location, which is not the case for other food trucks in the area which only operate during the summer.
Councillor Withey noted that food truck owners are local too. “Also, with all due respect to the BIA, we have restaurants that are outside of the BIA as well, so I think we need a comprehensive report on just this whole situation,” he said. “We’re in strange times, I mean often you’d say bricks and mortar have an advantage because they’ve got indoor seating and alcohol sales and things like that but that’s not the case now, so it is a more level playing field, but I’d like to see a more comprehensive policy that takes in the entire municipality. After all, that’s who we represent not just the BIA.”
In the end, the majority of councillors shot down Stone’s recommended amendment although Councillors Brian Thompson, and Jonathan Wiebe supported it. Council also passed a motion asking staff to bring back a report for further discussion about the Town’s current policy regarding food trucks to their meeting at the end of May.
Armour pointed out that council was now in essence dealing with two different issues. Whether to allow another food truck ( Algonquin Café’s) to operate at Brendale Square this year and how to move forward with a policy regarding food trucks in general throughout the municipality.
Councillor Jason FitzGerald put a motion on the floor to allow Algonquin Café’s application to move forward, while council holds further discussions about the municipality’s policy in general. He said “that’s probably a fair and reasonable thing to do.”
Thompson noted that two-thirds of council would have to vote in favour of putting that new motion on the floor because it had not been included in council’s agenda. Before whether to entertain the application submitted by Algonquin Café was put to a vote, Stone said: “I just want to say that as much as I’d like to support the Algonquin Café, and they do have a brick and mortar business and that’s wonderful, we just directed staff to go away and bring back some real information and now we’re saying ‘well yeah but not this information.’ If you want the whole picture, then let’s get the whole picture.”
FitzGerald said if it’s a completed application it should be treated as such. He said council should “be respectful of the applicant and the time, regardless of who the applicant was, like I said, I didn’t know who the applicant was until Andrew [Stillar] told us so I think that’s the right thing to do.”
“That’s fair,” responded Terziano. “But our bylaw actually says that we can’t have more than one person on the lot so we’re actually contravening our own bylaw by doing this.”
“We’re kind of going at this all different directions here and I think we’re going to get ourselves tied up if we’re… contravening an existing bylaw,” said Withey. “As the mayor said, we’re going against our own rules.”
In the end, when put to a vote, council narrowly voted against allowing the motion to permit Algonquin Café’s food truck to return to the Brendale property this year to be voted on. Instead, the applicant will have to wait and see what happens when council discusses the issue again at its May meeting. A two-thirds majority to allow the motion to proceed in order to be voted on would’ve required six (5.3) out of eight councillors to pass it. Councillors Alcock, Armour, FitzGerald, Schumacher, and Wiebe voted in favour of allowing the motion to hit the floor, while Stone, Terziano, Withey, and Thompson voted against it.
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