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11/13/2008
Councilman Weiner introduces legislation to regulate for-profit roadside businesses

NCCo taking new steps to regulate roadside businesses

By Jesse Chadderdon
Community News
Posted Nov 13, 2008 @ 08:03 AM
Last update Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:08 AM
Brandywine Hundred, Del. —

They’re here today, gone tomorrow, but two New Castle County Councilmen don’t want temporary businesses that often proliferate in empty parking lots on weekends to hurt local businesses or non-profits looking to raise some much needed cash.

Councilmen Robert Weiner (R-Chatham) and John Cartier (D-Penny Hill) have introduced legislation that would require temporary, for-profit businesses to take out a $15,000 surety bond when applying for a permit that gives customers some financial recourse if the products they purchased were defective.

But most importantly, Weiner said, payment of the surety bond will give the county a better sense of who the company is, where it’s from and when it typically operates in Delaware. Plus, local businesses are forced to purchase insurance and have other fixed costs.

“We’ve heard a lot of complaints from garden centers who struggle to compete with a temporary center that comes down and sets up on the side of the road and are able to sell for less because they have less overhead costs,” Weiner said.

Temporary sales permits are already required by the county, but not all temporary businesses bother to purchase them – especially if they only set up shop for a weekend at a time.

James Smith, who oversees the county's code enforcement division, said the code currently makes no distinction between non-profit and for-profit sales. He said classifying non-profit fund-raising sales as special events won't require them to get a temporary sales permit with the county.

Weiner acknowledged that enforcing the permitting provision of the code was a challenge, but said he was hopeful that the more prescriptive language of his legislation would give officials more to go on when investigating complaints.

Someone being defrauded would likely be a much higher priority for law enforcement officials than non-permitted businesses would be, he said.

“If you’re the Lion’s Club and selling Christmas trees or Easter flowers, you’re not affected,” Weiner said. “These groups already have enough challenges raising the funds they need to do good work in our communities.”

The legislation would also allow non-profits to hold sales and special fundraising events for 30 consecutive days instead of the 14 days prescribed in the current code. Temporary businesses are already allowed 30 days.

Thomas Ramsay, who organizes the Claymont Lion’s Club annual Christmas tree sale on Naamans Road, said he thinks the legislation could help drive down some of the competition from for-profit tree sales, although he’s quick to point out his organization does just fine for itself at the Claymont Fire Company Sub Station.

He recalls one year when the Department of Agriculture was aggressively inspecting every tree sale for a crop of trees that might be infested with insects, and speculated the surety bond could help people get recourse against a company who was selling infested trees.

Weiner said he is not sure if the legislation will be ready for a vote in time for this Christmas season because the Department of Land Use was in the process of writing up an amendment that would offer exemptions to places like Winterthur – museums or other large institutions with large properties – that could hold their own events without seeking a special permit from the county.

Beverly Baxter, executive director of the Committee of 100, which promotes economic development in Delaware, called the legislation a positive step.

“These businesses just all of a sudden seem to pop up with no connection to any local businesses at all,” she said. “I think many of them have learned they can get away with it, that they can fly in on the weekend and leave before anybody noticed them.”

Baxter acknowledged that enforcement could remain an issue, but said at least the legislation clears up any murkiness about what it required of temporary businesses.

“Now everybody will know exactly what the requirements are, what needs to be enforced,” she said.


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