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Ice cream trucks? Not in Deer Park

August 3, 2018

The ice cream man cometh, just not in Deer Park.

At a recent council meeting, attention was turned toward the topic of ice cream trucks: if they’re allowed, whether or not that should be changed and when the ordinance preventing them in the city came about.

An ordinance Deer Park council put on the books more than 30 years ago disallowing vendors from projecting music while selling their wares was specifically designed to keep ice cream trucks out of the city, and has served as the basis for why the mobile confection distributers stop short before Deer Park boundaries. Recently, community members asked their council member why the ice cream truck music died in the city.

The issue was brought to council by council member Rae Sinor, who said that residents in her district asked why there were no ice cream trucks in the city of Deer Park.

“It seems every summer I’ll have one or two constituents ask me about it, then the bandwagon kind of starts and several others (will ask about it),” she said.

According to information presented at the meeting by City Manager Jay Stokes, the ordinance designed to prohibit ice cream trucks in the city was established at least three decades ago.

“My understanding is going back to, I believe, in the 80s, the council at the time very specifically did not want ice cream trucks and they passed an ordinance that’s still on the books that you can’t project music when you’re selling your wares,” he said. “Of course, that’s what ice cream trucks do, and not too many other ones.”

Stokes said that preventing the trucks from coming to the city was based on two concerns: potential illegal activity and noise.

“At the time, from what I’m told, there were I guess concerns from the police department about activities that can go on - illicit activities that are not about about ice cream sales but about worse things,” he said. “I’ve heard part of the reason for no amplified device (being allowed) was for shift workers who slept during the day and things.”

If people in the city wanted to allow ice cream trucks in the city, Stokes said the first step would have to be to change the ordinance that didn’t allow music to be projected outwardly. There’s another rule in the city that might pose a problem, he said.

Liability issues and safety concerns are reasons councilmember Sherry Garrison said she wasn’t for changing the ordinance to allow ice cream trucks back in the city.

“I think you’d have to consider carrying huge liability insurance,” she said. “Most of these trucks are privately owned and you’d need background checks on those people and that would create a lot of work for some of the people here in the city. I think the main issue is the safety issue. One child gets hurt - that’s all it takes. I did look up about this. Some cities have opened this back up and a lot of cities said no. Even though parents say, ‘don’t run out in the street,’ when you get excited about an ice cream truck or anything going down the street, you’re going to run out in the street. Honestly, from that perspective, I don’t want to see this happen.”

Surrounding areas that do allow ice cream trucks include La Porte, Pasadena, Friendswood, Pearland, Houston, League City, Shore Acres, Seabrook, Galveston County, Harris County and Brazoria County. Many areas require ice cream truck operators to carry the proper license, insurance and to purchase a permit from the city or county.

“Not only do we allow ice cream trucks, but we have no restrictions,” said Stephanie Martinez with the city of Seabrook. “They just go out in the neighborhoods, drive up and down the street and give ice cream to the kiddos.”

None of the entities contacted could recall illicit activity or safety issues concerning the ice cream trucks in their areas.

Mobile food vending is one of those things the ordinance prohibits, and something some council members feel need to be kept off Deer Park streets.

“This is where it gets a little bit tricky,” Stokes said. “We don’t allow sales of any kind in the public spaces-in the right of way, in the street. I think we all like the things that (this ordinance) is intended to dissuade. For example, probably every weekend there’s baseball teams selling water bottles for a trip to the World Series, or those type of activities going on - we use this ordinance to prohibit that. So if we do want to allow ice cream trucks, we need to find a way to, as best we can, allow that while still prohibiting the things we want to prohibit.”

Garrison was concerned about the possibility of food trucks being allowed into the city.

“I think what we have in the city is good now, and I think it opens up a whole ’nother area of food trucks,” she said. “How do we say yes to ice cream trucks then spend all of our time trying to decide what we’re going to let it and what we’re not? Once we open this door, it’s going to create a lot of problems. That’s just my humble opinion and we’ll go with whatever the council decides.”

Councilmember Thane Harrison also voiced concerns about opening up a potential food truck onslaught.

“I guess the fact of the matter is if we do open this door, it’s the beginning of what else? And I don’t like opening the door. This town has come so far, and is so fine to live in and we haven’t had ice cream trucks and there are safety reasons and all sorts of things that councilwoman Garrison brought up. I agree with her. I really do,” he said.

Stokes said that based on preliminary research, food trucks are kept out of other cities by wording ordinances to allow only pre-packaged food to be sold from mobile food vendors.

“It appears that some cities have addressed that by treating prepackaged food different than food that’s either made at a restaurant and then brought to sale or food that’s prepared on site and sold, so that would be one way, if that’s our intent, to allow pre-packaged food, i.e. ice cream trucks,” he said.

Sinor said that she believed verbiage could be added to prohibit what the city wanted to prohibit while also allowing ice cream trucks.

“We met a couple weeks ago and when we talked one of the concerns was the noise, and I don’t know. I grew up with ice cream trucks, my kids grew up with ice cream trucks; I think there’s so many things that we hve taken away and don’t do anymore - some of the sweet fun things of summer. I don’t know why it can’t just be clearly stated, ‘an ice cream truck,’ (if the city were to change the ordinance)…I mean I’m sure there’s more to it than what it appears but I don’t think it should be so difficult.” she said.

The council agreed to not change the ordinance. Residents can listen to this portion of the council meeting online by following this link.

jennifer.bolton@chron.com

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