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Food carts

Proposed changes to the city's zoning code would allow food carts to vend on private property. Street Vending Coordinator Meghan Blake-Horst said food cart vending is concentrated in downtown Madison and is at capacity.

Under proposed changes to the Madison's zoning code, food carts would be able to operate on private property, a practice many businesses are not aware is not allowed, currently.

The city’s vending ordinance has only allowed free-standing vending on public property, meaning that any food cart vendor currently operating on private property is in violation of the city’s zoning code.

Madison street vending coordinator Meghan Blake-Horst said food cart vending is concentrated in downtown Madison and is at capacity. Expanding eligible vending areas would be a “game changer,” she said.

“It will also increase the economic viability of a food cart,” Blake-Horst said. “If they can't get a spot in the mall concourse, it doesn't mean it’s a make or break it (scenario).”

The State Street Mall/Capitol Concourse vending area, where most food carts operate, runs from the Capitol Square to Library Mall.

Blake-Horst said the inability to use private property for vending is a barrier for food carts and for businesses that want to invite food carts onto their property.

If approved, the ordinance would allow food vending on private property in mixed-use and commercial districts (typically areas heavy in businesses and shopping), employment districts and in all downtown and urban districts.

Free-standing vending would also be allowed on private property in residential districts with a conditional use permit. A conditional use permit is needed when a particular activity in an area requires special consideration by the city.

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Assistant City Attorney John Strange said food vending in residential districts would only be allowed on lots that are zoned for a non-residential use. For example, a food cart could vend in a parking lot within a neighborhood but not on an individual resident’s driveway.

The ordinance also creates supplemental regulations, including that vendors maintain a basic street vending license, comply with specified hours of operation, keep a 25-foot distance between the vending operation and another restaurant and have the city approve a site plan.

Operators would also need to gain permission from the property owner to vend on the property. 

Downtown Alds. Mike Verveer, District 4, and Zach Wood, District 8, are sponsoring the proposed changes that will be introduced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“It would provide vendors and community members many more opportunity to sell and enjoy food stuffs throughout the city,” Verveer said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.