MUSCODA - It was another packed house last Wednesday night May 5, during the Ad-Hoc Committee Meeting to draft an ordinance on regulating outdoor food stands and mobile food units. The meeting spurred a lot of conversation around the Muscoda community, village government, and food trucks. This caused passions to run high and led to a nearly two hour meeting.
The committee, which consists of Dorothy Hackle, Larry Anderson, Dave Wiederholt, Dan Behrens, Scott Sander (not present at Wednesday’s meeting), Jim Patch and Bill Scramm gathered to review the drafted ordinance in question. The ordinance will be presented to the board on Tuesday, May 11 at 7 p.m. where the Muscoda Village Board will make the next decision in regards to food trucks in Muscoda.
Schramm drafted the ordinance based on the discussions held at the last meeting, along with pieces of ordinances from other communities, such as Two Rivers, Richland Center and Prairie du Chien. However, it was explained by Village of Muscoda President Dorothy Hackle, that no other municipality in Grant County currently has any ordinances for food trucks since the abolishment of Platteville’s ordinance. Hackle noted that she brought this up at the Grant County Chamber of Commerce Meeting and received this information there.
The drafted ordinance included definitions for the situation in question as Mobile Food Establishment. Which means a restaurant or retail establishment where food is served or sold from a moveable vehicle, push cart, trailer or boat which periodically or continuously changes location and requires a service base to accommodate the unit for servicing, cleaning, inspection and maintenance. Mobile Food Establishment does not include the following: A vehicle which is used solely to transport or deliver meals prepared somewhere other than in or on the vehicle to specific persons, a common carrier regulated by the state or federal government, an establishment under hire, contract or special request, to provide food service to a private group, organization or business and is not serving to members of the general public, provided the establishment is in full compliance with all state applicable food and health code requirements.
Specific exemptions in the drafted ordinance included non profits, anyone under the age of 18 selling water, soda, shaved ice or similar beverage, only at occasional times from a stand on private property, person selling agricultural food products that they’ve grown, food stands at a festival, those who operate a permanent business establishment in Muscoda, or selling food at auction.
Schramm continued to go over the ordinance draft with the ad hoc committee as the community members listened. During the Prohibited and Required Acts portion of the meeting which included the operating hours and days of the calendar month available to operate caused a number of reactions from the crowd.
At the previous meeting, it was suggested to be drafted in the ordinance that food trucks only be allowed to operate Monday through Thursday, from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.
“I’d like to discuss that part? Why Monday through Thursday?” asked one attendee of the meeting.
“It’s just a starting point,” responded committee meeting member Larry Anderson. “It’s just a suggestion that’s all it was.”
“But I’d like to go to dinner on Friday nights,” the committee member noted “So this might change?”
“These are simply recommendations we’re making to the village board,” Chairperson Dan Behrens noted.
“There are no clear reasons why it has to be limited, then I don’t think it should be limited,” another community member echoed.
“In the other meeting it was very clear that the (restriction on) weekend hours were due to the busy hours of other businesses here,” yet another community member noted.
“Again, this will be discussed at the final board meeting. This is just a committee to make suggestions to the board,” expressed Anderson.
The mood seemed to get a little tense, as community members began commenting that they’d “like something other than bar food, this is why we want a food truck!” and “My problem is we’ve wasted everybody’s time. We’ve created this entire ordinance to regulate one food truck, but exclude 10 other stands in this community. Is there like 20 other food trucks that are planning to come that we need to create this ordinance on?”
“This isn’t about one food truck, it’s about any food truck” Anderson answered.
“This sounds really prejudiced to me. You don’t want no outsiders to come in! You want us to go to another town if we want anything else. Here we just have bar food!” Another community member raised her voice to say.
“Now there is no regulation. They could show up every day. We’re doing this now to have a bit of ordinance to help our business people and help you. It can’t just be one or the other. And we’re not just picking on Mexican guys, you gotta get that through your heads,” Anderson explained.
“This is an ordinance about food trucks and trailers. We had zero regulation on when or where they can operate. No other business operates like that.” Behrens noted.
“It’s great to see so many people engaged in civic affairs all of the sudden,” noted one community member. “I think that the idea that making sure any ordinance is in the public interest and not that of a private one is something to pay attention to.”
“I guess my question is why is there so much controversy in Muscoda. Nobody has had this discussion, why is this happening?” One community member asked.
“Other communities have had these discussions, having no ordinance is not something I believe in and that’s my opinion and you’re welcomed to have yours,” Behrens said. “I freely admit, I went about this wrong, I know I did, I’ll pay the price for that. But far as talking to other businesses in the communities, I’ve done that research. I’ve talked to the chamber. I didn’t go into this on a whim, but I could have done it better.” Behrens said.
“I think we’re making a problem before there is a problem,” Another community member expressed.
At one point at the meeting, Hackle emphasized to the crowd that this is simply a draft and that the final decision would be made by the Village Board at the May 11 meeting.
The question resurfaced once again after some discussion of why in the draft are food trucks restricted to only Monday through Thursday.
“In the last meeting we had we were determining if this would be every day of the week, both of the concerns of the business owners in the community and the concerns of the public, how can we give and take on both sides, and that was a suggestion that was put forward and that was the suggestion that was discussed, and I’m sure there are people who are going to feel different,” said Behrens.
A community member noted that is only “two times a month” so why limit it?
Legion commander and community member Tom Nondorf explained that although each vendor is only allowed two permits, there can be any number of food trucks here during those days. And that previously it was limited to only Monday and Tuesday, and requested it to more. “If we’re trying to grow this community, let’s open it to Monday through Thursday because I’m looking at the establishments and when I’m in town I see their busiest times are Fridays. So I brought to the board to focus on Monday through Thursday that way our establishments are still making it. Yes we all want the food truck but we need to support the establishments.”
“I will support our local establishments. A lot of these community members have, I don’t want you to hurt, but we want some kind of happy median. To help Muscoda survive and grow we don’t want to close your eyes to occasionally having something else. I like your food Honker, I go to Sportsmans, and Vickies as well, I will continue to do that, this is our community, we gotta meet somewhere in the middle. There is passion on both sides. Let’s keep going and find somewhere in the middle and meet there,” shared another.
A young woman in the crowd addressed the board with another question regarding the community image through this situation.
“Food trucks aside, I think this situation has caused a lot of negative backlash for the Muscoda community as a whole, with the numerous social media posts. People are ripping on us left and right, saying we’re unwelcoming. Other than a food truck specifically, what are you businesses going to do to mend that? How are you going to welcome people back in?” The young woman questioned.
“I’ve stayed off of it because I knew I was going to be here and I knew there were a lot of things that weren’t true. I don’t want to have that personal attack part as part of the conversation. I didn’t think that was something I should do. Mending that you treat people well with respect. As far as the chamber or the community, I don’t think an ordinance regulating food trucks is a problem. It’s the cancer and the disregard for what happened in a government institution and social media’s been doing that for a long time,” Behrens responded.
As the discussions continued, it was suggested that making one of the days available on the permit out of the two, to be open to use for any day of the week. So one of the permits purchased out of two for the calendar month could only be used Monday through Thursday, while the other could be used Sunday through Sunday.
Ultimately it seemed that the crowd continued to support the food trucks and tried to express that the pride in their businesses in the small community. Towards the end of the meeting, it was agreed upon by the ad hoc committee to adopt the suggestion to allow one of the permits to be used any day of the week. This seemed to strike the happy medium between business owners and the crowd.Although it was a vibrant, passionate meeting, full of emotion the story doesn’t end here. The Village of Muscoda will meet following the press time of this issue on May 11 at 7 p.m. to hopefully finalize the ordinance, if an agreement can be reached. More information about this and other government action for the Village of Muscoda will be available in next weeks Muscoda Progressive.