‘I shouldn’t have to grovel’: St. George resident takes issue with city’s method of approving businesses

ST. GEORGE — Over a year ago St. George resident Zachary Stucki proposed to create a mobile salon that would function similarly to a food truck; however, when he went to apply for a business license through the city of St. George, he was denied.

St. George resident Zachary Stucki speaks to the St. George City Council about his opposition to city ordinances that prohibits businesses not expressly detailed in zoning code, St. George, Utah, April 14, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The reason? If a proposed business is not expressly defined in the city code, it is automatically prohibited. Since St. George didn’t have anything in the code about a mobile salon or truck-based barber shop, it wasn’t allowed.

“Our current development code prohibits all uses of land not specifically allowed, and this type of use is not specifically allowed which makes it a prohibited use,” David Cordero, St. George’s communications and marketing director, told St. George News in an email.

However, Cordero said city staff has been directed by the City Council to look at the matter and draft a proposed zone ordinance change that may favor Stucki’s situation.

Stucki’s plight began in early 2021 when he applied for the business license for his proposed “Cut Truck” venture. Following its denial and the subsequent explanation he was given at the time, Stucki went on to contact the Libertas Institute and Pacific Legal Foundation for advice on how to move forward. His story would go on to be told in an opinion piece published in The Hill in May 2021.

The authors of the opinion piece state that individuals should not have to “justify their use of liberty to the government. Instead it’s the government that must justify its restrictions to the people.”

“It shouldn’t be any different from any other business if the rules are being followed,” Stucki told St. George News in April following a St. George City Council meeting held earlier that month. “I shouldn’t have to grovel before the council and beg for their permission to start a business.”

The St. George City Council discusses the city’s mobile business ordinance, St. George, Utah, April 14, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The City Council was given a presentation concerning its mobile vendor ordinance during an April 14 work meeting that Councilwoman Michelle Tanner asked Stucki to attend.

It was shared that of the nearly 7,600 business licenses the city had issued up to that point, 1,800 of them were for mobile businesses of varying types. Among the types permitted by the city are food trucks (which are primarily regulated under state law and limit what cities can do in this regard) and mobile businesses that travel to a customer’s location to perform a service, such as landscapers, contractors, pest control and so on.

However, when it came to parking lot and street vendors, the question of what exactly was permitted as a mobile barber shop like Stucki proposed would potentially be included in this category.

City staff said elements that had to be considered for such a business include parking requirements, the size of the booth, tent or pop-ups the vendor is using, the potential of a vendor to encroach on landscaping and city right-of-way, temporary signage and the possible blocking of sidewalks or parking lot entries depending on where the vendor set up in a parking lot.

As long as his business was on private property with the permission of the property owner and wasn’t hurting anyone or blocking general access to the area, Stucki said, why should it be any concern to the city?

“If they have permission from the property owner, I don’t see any reason why we as a city have the right to restrict them,” Tanner said during the meeting.

In this file photo, a growing line of customers gathers before the On The Hook Fish and Chips food truck parked in the Smith’s Marketplace parking lot in St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2020 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News.

During his interview with St. George News soon after the April 14 meeting, Stucki said it made sense for a truck-based vendor not to block sidewalks or parking lot access points. To do so wouldn’t be good for business as it could incur the displeasure of both the city and the property owner whose property the truck was blocking access to, he said.

As for where a truck would likely park, Stucki said his mobile barber shop would be set up close to the road. This would most likely place it far from the front door of a nearby business that shared the same parking lot. He pointed to the example of food trucks he had seen in the parking lots of Smith’s Marketplace and Hurst Ace Hardware on Bluff Street that do this on a regular basis. And they are parked at the far end of the parking lot where customers rarely park.

Additionally, being near the road provides high visibility for a truck-based business, he said.

Other issues that were brought up were mobile salons needing to meet additional regulations from the local health department, which Stucki said he was fine with, and noted his wife, was a professional, state-licensed hair stylist.

Another concern mentioned by city staff during the April 14 meeting was the potential competition that could be had between a brick-and-mortar store and a truck-based vendor parked nearby and gave an example of a sit-down Mexican-style restaurant versus a taco truck.

“That’s a different product,” Councilman Jimmie Hughes said, adding that if he wanted to go to a sit-down restaurant, he wasn’t likely to go to the taco truck. “I don’t see a problem with letting people try this sort of thing.”

In this file photo, St. George Councilwoman Danielle Larkin speaks during a council meeting, St. George, Utah, December 2021 | Photo courtesy of the city of St. George / CEC, St. George News

Councilwoman Danielle Larkin said she felt the proliferation of food trucks in the city was “a great addition to the community,” and that even with so many of them around, local restaurants were “still slammed” with patrons.

By the end of the presentation, the City Council told city staff to look into the issue and see what might be done to remedy Stucki’s situation.

“We have received direction from the city council to propose code changes that would allow these types of uses,” Cordero said in the email. “Our staff is currently working on that task and are hoping to have a draft proposal to the planning commission in the next month or so for consideration. This would be a change to the land use regulations which require a recommendation from the planning commission after holding a public hearing before it goes to the council for final decision.”

St. George News recently followed up with Stucki and asked if he had heard any progress from the city. Aside from some conversations with Tanner, who has been a “bulldog” in support of this issue, there hadn’t been any word, he said.

Tanner’s views on the matter echoed those expressed by the authors of The Hill’s opinion piece.

“We should be living in a Constitutional Republic,” Tanner said in an email to St. George News. “The burden should not be placed upon the people to prove why they can use their land or run their business, but rather the burden should be placed upon the government to prove why they must restrict someone’s liberty. I believe this ordinance needs to be changed which I have expressed to City staff.”

In this file photo, St. George City Councilwoman Michelle Tanner speaks against the proposed property tax hike for the Safe St. George plan, St. George, Utah, Aug. 18, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Addressing the city’s mobile vendor ordinance has been a more recent development in the wake of the city of St. George reworking its water-conservation and landscaping ordinances. John Willis, the city’s community development director, told St. George News in June that city staff were near-exclusively focused on the proposed water ordinance revisions the City Council adopted in late July.

While Stucki said he’ll get his proposed Cut Truck underway if eventually approved, he still has concerns about the city preventing potential entrepreneurs and innovators from pursuing business opportunities if a particular theme or purpose isn’t on a permitted list of land uses.

“What about all those other businesses out there that have truly innovative ideas that could benefit the community but are prohibited from doing so?” he said.

As other cities in Utah with similar ordinances, Stucki said he could see this issue being taken to the Utah Legislature like food trucks were in 2017. Mobile businesses like Stucki’s could come under state regulation if that happens. It also could end up limiting how much say a municipality or county has regarding the situation as happened with the food trucks.

The libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute played a large part in pushing the food truck legislation and also advised Stucki concerning his own project.

Lee Sands, a spokesman for Libertas, said the institute was pleased the city of St. George was looking at Stucki’s situation, yet also wished to see Utah cities revise the code that has been in Stucki’s way.

“As there are sure to be more innovative businesses that are not contemplated by city ordinances, we believe cities should list out specific business types they wish to forbid—and then allow everything else by default,” Lee said. “This approach would be clearer to residents, friendlier to entrepreneurs, and would still allow plenty of room for cities to regulate and enforce laws related to legitimate health and safety concerns.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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