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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Tampa code enforcement takes aim at illegal pop-up vendors

TAMPA — At the corner of North Armenia and Kenmore avenues, Haydee Otero and her husband, Pastor Calzado Noa, run a small produce stand from the shade of an enormous oak tree.

They set up about six months and have the paperwork to prove that it meets all the city’s requirements: a business tax receipt, a lease with the landlord, and a set of 45-day temporary vendor permits issued by the City of Tampa.

“If I didn’t have no paperwork, I wouldn’t be here,” Otero said Friday.

That wasn’t the case for her predecessor, a sprawling operation that caught the eye of City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, whose West Tampa district has many illegal vendors.

Miranda is pushing the city to do something to curtail the kind of pop-up markets that can grow quickly from a single tent to a semipermanent operation.

“It’s a health, safety and welfare issue” Miranda told city officials at a city council workshop last week.

Cathy Coyle, head of the city’s planning division, told city council members at the workshop that the city’s rules for vendors have been added onto repeatedly since they were first written in 1989.

“It’s kind of a mess,” Coyle said. “There’s some definite clean-up we need to do.”

There are special-use permits tied to the land beneath the market and business-operating permits issued just to the business owner. There are five kinds of vendor permits as well, including one just for Ybor City and another just for Raymond James Stadium.

People who come looking for a permit — provided they know they need one — have many paths they can take to get one. Those paths also determine how quickly the city can correct violations if they occur, Coyle said.

Special-use permits take the slow road through the Code Enforcement Board. Starting next month, businesses operating without a business-operating permit will take the quicker route through the new code enforcement docket within the Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

The solution is to streamline the way the city issues permits for vendors – something akin to the way the city streamlined the development-review process for new construction, Coyle said.

“So it’s one-way in and one-way out,” she said.

The city could also cut down the number of permits it issues, possibly folding the Ybor City and Raymond James permits into one for city-sanctioned events.

Also, annual permits could be shrunk to several months at a time as a way to keep tabs on vendors. Those who become problems could be shut down when their permits come up for renewal, Coyle said. Under that scenario, vendors who lose their permits would have to wait an year or more to get another one, she said.

City officials plan to bring the new rules to the council in March.

Meantime, Miranda wants the city’s code inspectors to keep an eye out for those illegal open-air markets. On a recent drive along Armenia, Miranda pointed out a half a dozen vacant lots where pop-up markets once operated.

Another market, behind a Walgreens at Hillsborough and Lois avenues, has also moved to a brick-and-mortar site a couple blocks away.

A hand-lettered sign at the old site tells people in Spanish the market moved because of construction. The steel-framed canopies and wooden display tables remain behind.

City code inspectors shut down two illegal markets on Armenia and the one on Lois, but took a long time, Miranda said.

“They’ve done something,” Miranda said. “It just takes so long, because the system is wrong.”

Left to their own devices, Miranda said, pop-up markets can balloon from single tents to semi-permanent undertakings complete with refrigerated tractor-trailers for storage and piles of trash out back.

Last week, Miranda showed council members a series of pictures of the corner of Armenia and Braddock Street showing a market that did exactly that.

“It’s a grocery store on wheels,” he said.

As the rules are now written, the city’s code inspectors are limited in their ability to enter property to see if the business meets the city’s rules for operating, Miranda said.

That needs to change, he said.

“People have rights,” he said. “But, at the same time, the citizens of this city have rights and they don’t want this stuff next to them.”

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(813) 259-7871

Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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