Hot Dog Cart Ticketed

Council to consider revised sidewalk vendor rules, which cart violated, on Monday

The Federal Building, between Fourth and Fifth Streets on the south side of Liberty Street, is perhaps the bluntest building in Ann Arbor. The only thing on that side of the street that gives the middle of the block any character at all is the hot dog stand. Almost every day, I pedal past John, the Top Dog hot dog man, and he always has a friendly wave and a word for me.

Top Dog hot dog stand in front of the Federal Building on Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

Top Dog hot dog stand in front of the Federal Building on Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

Some days, if I’ve got two dollars in my pocket, I’ll tell him, “John, I’ll be back around for a dog.” And after I’ve dropped my load of books at the post office loading dock behind the Federal Building, I’ll head down Fifth to William, and circle back around to Fourth, back up the half block to Liberty where John will have my dog ready.

That hot dog stand is a place where people enjoying their dogs will cluster for a brief bit of small talk. You’ll hear about a post office worker’s plans to retire next February. You’ll hear how they’ve installed Kevlar in the floors and walls of the Federal Building space where the ATF is taking up residence soon. You can get up to speed on events that John has worked deals to help promote from the stand. Sometimes bicycle-mounted police will drop by.

So when I saw a status report posted on Twitter, “A meter maid is ticketting [sic] the federal building hot dog stand,” it was worth it to me to follow up on it.

John said the violation was for leaving the cart overnight locked to the bicycle hoop. John explained he and the others who staff the cart have an arrangement with Sottini’s to store the cart overnight in their alley space, but that a series of unexpected events and some less-than-perfect communication led to a quick and easy solution of leaving the cart overnight in front of the Federal Building instead of moving it around the corner. He also said that was not the first time it had been left there.

Promotional flyer at the hot dog stand earlier this summer: " "

Promotional flier at the hot dog stand earlier this summer (boxing at Veterans Park)

According to John, the fine was $170 plus $60 to get the cart out of police impound. And he said that’s the last time they’ll leave the cart locked to the bicycle hoop overnight.

From a public policy perspective, the ticket assessed to John’s hot dog cart is unlikely to reflect any change in the sidewalk vendor program administered by the city. On June 16, city council passed agenda item D-4 on a voice vote, which was a resolution calling on the city to address problems identified in the sidewalk vendor program by Sept. 8 – next Monday:

RESOLVED, That the City Administrator shall provide a report and recommendations on revisions to policies, fee structures and ordinances necessary to create a sidewalk vendor program that is enforceable and works for the betterment of the community by September 8, 2008.

That resolution reflected the efforts of councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) beginning in March of 2008 to prevent sidewalk vendors from using the public right of way as long-term storage. His initial efforts focused on an attempt to have the following subsection of Article VI enforced of the city code on Stopping, Standing, and Parking:

10:56. Parking prohibitions (no signs required).
No person shall stop or park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with law or the directions of a police officer or traffic-control device in any of the following places:
(1) On a sidewalk; or, on that portion of the highway located between the property lines and the curb or curb line; …

Ultimately the city pursued a path of revising the ordinances on parking as well as the sidewalk vendor program, which is now on the agenda for the Sept. 8 council meeting. The proposed sidewalk vendor program includes two specific points under section (13) which John’s cart violated:

(d) Limited hours. No person shall keep a vendor cart or any other apparatus used in connection with the vendor cart in the permitted area or on any other sidewalk area or allow it to remain for more than 24 hours. Any vendor carts or any other apparatus found in the permitted area or any other sidewalk area in violation of this section shall be subject to seizure and impoundment by the City.

(e) Affixing to stationary objects. No person shall permit a vendor cart used in connection with the permitted sidewalk occupancy to be affixed to any stationary object, including but not limited to parking meters, light poles and traffic control devices, or any other stationary object located in the public street or sidewalk.

[.pdf of full vendor program draft text]

It seems like the hot dog cart earned its ticket fair and square – based on the proposed revised program. What nobody at the The Chronicle has determined is whether (d) and (e) above are a part of the current program, and whether community standards officers might have begun enforcement a bit early. Or at least ended without notice any informal truce that might have been declared until the program was overhauled? John did acknowledge, though, that it wasn’t the first time it had been left overnight. So it’s possible it had become a repeated offense.

I think fighting it is not likely to be worth the cost of the ticket. Which is not to say that the $230 isn’t significant. It’s quite a wad of cash when you put it in terms of hot dogs. To gross $230, John has to sell 115 dogs.

It’s more productive, I think, to indulge in a hot dog a little more often. Yesterday was a day when I had $4 in my pocket. So I treated myself to two dogs. That’s 113 to go.

Section: Govt.

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  1. By Steve Bean
    September 6, 2008 at 11:58 pm | permalink

    I saw it locked up there a couple times in the last week or two. The next time I saw it was when the tow truck was getting ready to haul it away. Not only is John going to have to sell more dogs, he’ll probably have to cut out ice cream breaks at Kilwin’s.

  2. September 7, 2008 at 10:16 pm | permalink

    Would it have been legal by these to store the trailer in a city downtown parking lot overnight? That’s not free, but 12 hrs of downtown parking is “only” $12 or so and not $230.

  3. September 23, 2008 at 1:05 am | permalink

    Come on, It’s a hot dog cart. It’s an American icon. Are we gonna make everything American illegal?