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February 8, 2001

Ordinance affecting local vendors expected to go into effect next week

Local regulations governing street vendors, including the popular mobile eateries dotting the Pittsburgh campus, will change under a new city ordinance expected to be finalized next week.

The ordinance will require street vendors to obtain a vending license, renewable annually; to prove that they have paid taxes; to abide by relevant health codes; to comply with restrictions on vending cart size; to buy insurance against property and personal liability; and to comply with noise, odor, signage and hours of operation restrictions, among other regulations.

The biggest change, and the one with the most repercussions for the Pittsburgh campus, is that the city is restricting vendors to designated areas, which will displace vendors accustomed to vending at metered parking spaces, such as in front of Hillman Library.

City Ordinance No. 26, basically a re-writing of the city's business licensing code, passed City Council in December and then re-passed over Mayor Tom Murphy's veto. It was set to go into effect Jan. 1. Council delayed implementation until a vending site designation committee, a group of seven officials from various city departments, could make on-site visits to approve specific vending areas.

Vendors who have been operating at a particular location prior to the implementation of the ordinance will be given first preference to retain their site, provided they comply with all the licensing and restrictions, and only if the site is approved for vending.

But vendors who sell goods of any kind, including food, from their vehicles — defined under the ordinance as "stationary vehicular vendors" — can only vend in designated areas. The city is prohibiting that type of vendor from vending at metered parking spaces.

That controversial provision was amended by City Council last week to allow vendors to park vehicles at metered spaces, subject to normal parking restrictions, as long as they do not sell directly from the vehicle.

So a vendor like long-time Pitt Stop owner Charles Bonasorte can park his trucks at metered spots, unload his wares and then sell them as a stationary vendor at his familiar spot at Forbes and Bigelow, which is a city-approved vending site.

Bonasorte had threatened to sue the city over the ordinance until the latest amendment was approved.

"If a UPS truck pulls up at a meter and the guy gets out and delivers a package, what's the difference from me parking my truck in front of the Cathedral and setting up [across the street] to sell my goods?" Bonasorte said. "We thought the ordinance as it was written before was unconstitutional. I do believe that the city can regulate what is sold at a metered spot, and can say if you're a vendor, you have to have a license and you have to have insurance, and all that. And I think the ultimate effect will be to limit some of the trash on the sidewalks and protect against vendors who operate without a license."

Bonasorte also said the ordinance will guard against vendors who block wheelchair ramps or park at designated handicapped parking spots or otherwise interfere with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

According to Jay Roling of Pitt's Community and Governmental Relations office, the University has supported the ordinance in part to alleviate traffic around Hillman Library and in part because the ordinance calls for strict enforcement of license and health codes.

"Despite some recent published reports, the University is not against vendors," Roling said. "They add diversity to the culture in our urban environment. They provide tasty foods. They provide a service to the University community."

In fact, Roling said, Pitt hopes to work with the city to have a few designated vending cart sites on campus, such as in the area of the Posvar Hall/Hillman Library/Law Building plaza.

"What we oppose is the current situation, where vendors are causing gridlock, especially around Hillman Library, and where there is no hygiene control, which might pose a health threat to our community. Now vendors will have to display licenses and their health-department approvals and that can help customers make their decisions."

Roling cautioned, however, that the ordinance will have repercussions for anyone who parks at city meters in the Oakland area. "There will be no more running out and feeding the meter each time the time expires, without risking a ticket. The law says you have to move your car after one [meter cycle]. Actually, that's always been the law, but it hasn't been enforced. The Parking Authority has warned us that this will be strictly enforced."

Roling said the Parking Authority also is recommending that the meters in front of Hillman Library be converted from a two-hour time limit to 30 minutes.

Sites in Oakland that have been approved by the vendor site designation committee include: two sites at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard (William Pitt Union side); two on Bigelow Boulevard between Fifth and Forbes avenues; two at Fifth Avenue and DeSoto Street (public health school side); two at the corner of O'Hara and DeSoto streets (north and south ends); two at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Craig Street (PNC bank side); two at Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard (Schenley Parking plaza sidewalk/greenspace area), and six or seven in the Schenley Park plaza parking lot, to be leased from the city Parking Authority).

An additional four Oakland sites are approved on the Carnegie Mellon campus on Tech Street near the Margaret Morrison Building.

There are 17 approved sites in the Downtown area; one on West Ohio Street; one at Cedar Avenue and E. North Avenue; one at the Eliza Furnance trail entrance; one at 4503 Penn Ave. in Lawrenceville, and at designated sites near all city swimming pools.

Other sites are still under consideration.

Ordinance 26 is expected to pass final City Council approval next week and will be effective immediately, Roling said.

–Peter Hart

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