Melrose vendors upset with city

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | MAY 06, 2011 7:20 AM

Rob Johnson/The Daily Iowan
Chuck Ford dances in front of the Big Ass Turkey Leg stand before the Iowa/Northwestern football game on Nov. 7.
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Big Ass Turkey Legs on Melrose Avenue “might be history” on football Saturdays this fall.

At least that’s what Dewey Stewart, who has been part of the vending operation for 14 years, said following a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Thursday to discuss the requirements of installing a temporary-permit system for game-day vendors, which might cost around $75.

“If they’re going to put up all this red tape, we’re going to end the tradition,” Stewart said.

In mid-April, an Iowa City panel suggested commercial vendors not be allowed to station themselves along the popular street on Saturdays this fall.

The Stewarts, along with a representatives from Yolanda’s Egg Rolls, the Magic Bus, and other vendors said they felt as though they were being punished for the misbehavior of one vendor, and they expressed concern about regulations that might require them to buy new equipment, pay more money, or effectively close up shop.

“I follow the rules, why should I be punished for something someone else did?,” said Sandy Stewart, also with Big Ass Turkey Legs, during public discussion. “That’s not democracy, that’s the city trying to get a piece of the pie … handle the people who are causing the trouble.”

Other vendors supported the regulations, while noting the city and the University of Iowa could do more to deal with the problems of trash and inadequate numbers of portable toilets.

Ron Christiansen, who runs Gameday Iowa, spoke out in support of instituting a permit system. As a vendor who travels with the team to away games, he said, Iowa City is the only place permits aren’t required.

“What [vendors will] find out is, by being permitted and having people come through and make sure we’re doing things the right way, I think they’ll find everyone there is trying hard, and it will work for everyone,” Christiansen said. “It will protect from people who are not licensed who are trying to beat the system and stirring things up.”

Jean Walker of the Melrose Neighborhood Association said the neighborhood is not against having vendors at football games, but she believes more can be done to ensure her neighborhood is respected, calling on the UI, city, and neighborhood to undertake a comprehensive review.

“Football games were a lot more pleasant when we moved in, without the current congestion, trashing, urinating, vomiting, defecating and destruction of property,” Walker said. “We have a serious problem here.”

Vendors from both sides of the permit issue said inadequate litter and restroom facilities were the largest problem, and they agreed with Walker that the city and university could do more.

During the meeting, Walker requested all foodware items and beverage containers be biodegradable and that recycling containers be provided for their disposal. She also requested new vendors be required to attend a meeting with property owners.

Jeremy Freerks, who runs the Magic Bus, said the location and alcohol regulations proposed would not allow him to keep the Magic Bus tradition alive.

Ultimately, commission members agreed it was not uncommon for permits to be necessary, but they deferred a decision on temporary-permit requirements until the panel’s meeting on May 19. Any permit fees would have to be approved by the Iowa City City Council.

“I almost feel like apologizing to vendors, because it’s been drawn through the press and how you feel like you’ve been made the bad guys,” Planning and Zoning Chairperson Ann Freerks said at the end of the meeting. “I think we’re seeing there are a lot of things the university, and city, and community aren’t addressing in terms of trash that would go a long way to improve the experience that people have and what the neighbors have to deal with.”

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