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Just the Facts

The purpose of this feature is to be transparent and direct with the community about topics relating to the City of DeKalb. The feature is an effort by the City of DeKalb to dispel rumors and clear up confusion on a variety of matters. Just the Facts will be updated as rumors, misperceptions, or topics of confusion arise in the community. 

May 08

Food Trucks

Posted on May 8, 2018 at 12:25 PM by Ray Munch

The Daily Chronicle recently ran a story on April 29, 2018, entitled “Food truck blockade:  Mobile eateries might be out less this season, owner says.”  This front page story has generated some interest and public comment on the topic of food trucks and their role in the community, as well as questions regarding the current food truck regulations.

1.         The City had not been contacted by Ms. Veronica Garcia-Martinez, food truck owner quoted in the story, and thus did not have an opportunity to assist her in her ventures by advising her about a provision in the code that allows for a fee waiver.

The owner quoted in the story expresses concerns that the City’s food truck regulations are business unfriendly in that the fees associated with food truck licenses are believed to be too high.  Unfortunately, she never contacted the City to discuss that concern.  Had she done so, staff could have discussed with her specific sections of the City Code that authorize the Mayor to waive or reduce fees associated with food truck licensure where they present a hardship to a business owner or other interested licensee.  Specifically, the existing code provides as follows:

Any person who feels that such cost of licensing and investigation would work a hardship may appeal such cost to the Mayor. The Mayor may make a determination upon examination of the appellant's financial records or on such other information as he feels necessary. Upon finding such a hardship exists, the Mayor may reduce or waive such licensing and investigative costs. Any waiving or reduction of costs, however, will not affect the obligation to register.
Click here for a link to Chapter 33 of the Municipal Code

City staff will reach out to this owner and work to address any concerns she may have with operating in the City, just as the City does with any similar issue.

2.         The City was not contacted by the writer for any comment on the Daily Chronicle Story. 

Had the City been contacted for comment, relevant information could have been provided to the newspaper to help ensure that the article included important facts (such as the fee waiver or reduction provisions in City Code).  The City is available to local media for any inquiries on topics of interest to the public; no request for comment was made here.

3.         The City’s Food Truck Code was adopted unanimously by the City Council in 2013 and has been in effect since that date without significant issue.

The City Council evaluated the need for food truck licensure in 2013 and determined that this ordinance (and the fee structure) was appropriate, by a unanimous vote.  It has remained in effect for five years.

4.         Staff is presently working on a number of ‘beta tests’ for updates to City Code, to evaluate different ways to reduce the scope of regulations while still protecting public safety.

In 2017, the Rotary Club conducted their Trucktober food truck event and expressed some concerns about the rigors of the event and food truck permitting for a temporary event of that nature.  After that event, City staff has been working diligently with the Rotary to streamline the process for their anticipated 2018 event.  Staff is also working on a number of other public events for 2018 that consider new approaches to public service of alcohol and related public regulations.  Those events will be presented to the City Council for consideration of changes to the code. Based on lessons learned from these events, staff will recommend updates to City Code prior to the 2019 event season.  These processes were all underway prior to the Chronicle story.  This measured approach should provide the City Council with objective data from which it can direct changes to the City’s ordinances.

5.         The City is always looking for ways to improve operations and be business friendly while doing so in a way that does not jeopardize public safety.

Certainly, it would be less expensive and simpler for food trucks to operate without any licensure or inspection.  The same could be said of nearly every other form of licenses issued by the City or by other units of government.  However, the reason that license and inspection requirements exist is to protect public safety.

Where a business owner or resident has a concern about a specific regulation, the City is always willing to listen to that concern and evaluate ways to update City Code—or, as described above, to advise of existing provisions in City Code that may address the concern.

Apr 13

Does the City engage in sanitary inspections of food service establishments?

Posted on April 13, 2018 at 1:44 PM by Ray Munch

The City recently received the following inquiry:

If 16.01 of the City Code reads, “The licensing and sanitary inspection of food service and food store establishments within the City of DeKalb shall be conducted by the DeKalb County Health Department, in accordance with rules and regulations prescribed by the DeKalb County Code,” were the City’s recent actions for Lord Stanley’s, Common Grounds, and the Annex in conflict with the city code?


No.
The City does not engage in sanitary inspections of food service establishments in the fashion that the County Health Department does.  There is no discrepancy in this instance.  The City does not test food temperatures, verify disinfectant measures, review food preparation and expiration dates, or take similar actions that are “in accordance with rules and regulations prescribed by the DeKalb County Code.”  The City does not have codes that address food temperature or preparation. 

However, pursuant to the very next paragraph in the Section cited by the resident who posed the above question, the City is authorized to conduct fire-life safety inspections at food service establishments.  In the course of those inspections, as outlined in the remainder of that Section, the City enforces those requirements which also include an evaluation as to whether the “building’s management, owner, or occupants conduct, maintain or allow to exist conditions or violations of any/all locally adopted building codes, this Municipal code and the Unified Development Ordinance of the City…or which are a menace to the health safety or general welfare of the public” (Section 16.06 (3) ).  These basic codes are applicable to all properties (restaurant or not) and address building sanitation and conditions, such as the organic growth observed to be occurring in the basement of Lord Stanley's.  If that same form of growth was observed in any property, it would have been cause for significant concern.  That it occurred in such close proximity to food may heighten the level of potential harm to the public, but the underlying violation is a violation of City code, regardless of the type of building.  The City's inspection did not extend to any matters not covered by City Code and did not violate the ordinance cited above.  Chief Building Official Mack's inspection report cited to sections of the 2015 International Property Maintenance Code, as adopted by the City, which is uniformly applicable to all structures in the City. The City does and will always defer to the Health Department on food-related items as the City Code is currently written. 

Apr 10

Condemnation of Lord Stanley's, The Annex, and Common Grounds

Posted on April 10, 2018 at 5:18 PM by Ray Munch

On Friday, April 6, 2018, the City took action to declare an emergency condemnation of the premises at 142-150 E. Lincoln Highway, commonly known as Lord Stanley's, The Annex and Common Grounds.  The condemnation was undertaken based on significant property maintenance and sanitation issues identified at Lord Stanley's, as well as significant structural deterioration concerns in the basement and floor structure constituting the main first-floor commercial area of The Annex and Common Grounds.  The City also identified several concerns on basic life-safety issues that pose significant hazards to resident well-being, for those residents who live in the second-floor apartments over those establishments.

There were no health or sanitation issues identified within the premises of Common Grounds; all concerns with that part of the building were confined to structural concerns under the business, which the owner of Common Grounds was not aware of.

To provide full transparency as to the reasons for the emergency condemnation, the City presented both a chronology of events and a PowerPoint of exemplary photographs to the City Council at its regular meeting on April 9, 2018.  Copies of that PowerPoint and chronology are provided herein, to fully inform the public.

The City took prompt actions with the owners of the buildings to implement emergency remediation and repairs and was able to avoid condemning the residential portions of the property.  Owners of both Lord Stanley’s as well as the building housing the Annex and Common Grounds have been responsive and taken immediate steps toward resolution.  Lord Stanley’s has been able to take temporary measures to remediate some issues in the short term and is actively working with City staff to address the remaining items and has been permitted to reopen as of April 10, 2018.  The owner of the building housing Common Grounds and The Annex have also engaged the appropriate engineer to assess structural deficiencies and prepare a report with temporary and long-term solutions to stabilize the structure.  The City is working directly with the owner of the remainder of the building to address the safety concerns therein and to permit the reopening of the affected businesses (The Annex and Common Grounds).

The City takes building safety seriously and is committed to working with responsive owners to improve the quality of buildings throughout the City, as well as taking measured enforcement action necessary to protect the public safety.

Community Development Presentation to City Council on 4/9/2018

Chronology

·         Thursday, April 5, 2018:

o   3:00pm: Fire Prevention Officer (FPO) Lynch and Chief Building Official (CBO) Thaddeus Mack go to Lord Stanley’s to conduct annual Fire Life Safety (FLS) inspection.  FLS inspections are performed during normal business hours of licensed establishments, unscheduled, to determine real conditions within the premises.

§  Inspection includes Lord Stanley’s and a portion of the basement of Annex; does not extend to basement of Lord Stanley’s, or the basement under Common Grounds.  Inspection is halted shortly before 5:00pm.

§  CBO and FPO speak with Lord Stanley’s employees and set up scheduled appointment to return at 10:00am the following day.

·         Friday, April 6, 2018:

o   10:00am:  FPO and CBO return to Lord Stanley’s; employee of establishment is there to unlock and let them in for inspection.

§  Inspection of Lord Stanley’s reveals extent of significant property maintenance concerns in Lord Stanley’s basement, with large areas of organic growth (including in areas of food storage), unsanitary conditions, areas with floor tiles that may contain asbestos, and other property maintenance violations.

§  Further inspection of The Annex shows a number of more severe conditions that jeopardize the structural integrity of the property and pose an immediate hazard to first floor occupants.

§  Inspection of common hallways for second floor residential shows a number of propane cylinders being stored indoors, as well as the complete absence of fire extinguishers.

§  Inspection continued all morning and into early afternoon.  FPO and CBO returned to City Hall to review codes and determine plan for addressing building; advised employees that FPO and CBO would return.

o   2:25pm:  FPO calls Mark Thomson, owner of Lord Stanley’s (at west end of building) regarding concerns at the property, both in residential and commercial areas.  FPO explains that property will be condemned pending remediation.

o   2:25pm:  City Attorney calls attorney for Mark Thomson and advises of concerns identified at property and emergency condemnation. 

o   ~2:30pm:  FPO returns to property while CBO works on drafting written notices to property owners. 

§  Commercial areas posted. 

§  FPO speaks with Thomson’s brother at property and explains the concerns for residential area.  Thomson’s brother removes propane cylinders and discusses timeline to install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.  Based on timeline for repair and desire to avoid displacing tenants unnecessarily, owner allowed to complete repairs over the weekend (install fire extinguishers.

§  Residential doors posted with notice indicating that condemnation was contemplated for following Monday.

§  FPO speaks with manager from World Famous Pizza as well as Lord Stanley’s.

o   ~4:00pm:  Tenant in Common Grounds provides access to basement of that facility, for purposes of inspection.  Structural concerns identified.  Tenant came to basement to personally observe the concerns.

§  Common Grounds posted as condemned.

o   4:50pm:  CBO calls Bill Valos, owner of building containing The Annex and Common Grounds.  CBO explains concerns to him and enumerates all identified issues.

o   5:32pm:  CBO has second phone call with Valos regarding building issues.

o   5:54pm:  Economic Development Planner Jason Michnick has phone call with owner of Common Grounds to offer support.

o   6:10pm:  CBO has first phone call with Thomson regarding emergency repairs and efforts that can be undertaken.

·         Sunday, April 8, 2018:

o   Concerns regarding misinformation identified; staff took actions to post a notice at the property explaining current status.

·         Monday, April 9, 2018:

o   8:30am:  CBO has phone call with Valos regarding building conditions and potential for emergency repair.

o   11:15am:  CBO meets Thomson at Lord Stanley’s to review temporary repair/remediation work he performed there over the weekend.  Notice letter outlining all code deficiencies hand delivered.

o   12:21pm:  CBO has second phone call with Valos regarding building conditions and repairs.

o   1:30pm:  CBO meets at The Annex / Common Grounds with Valos and Valos’ structural engineer to discuss remediation plans and temporary shoring.  Notice letter outlining all code deficiencies hand delivered.

o   2:00pm:  CBO re-inspects common hallways in residential portions of 2nd floor above annex, and confirms that condemnation is not required.

 

Anticipated Timeline for Remediation of Structural Concerns at The Annex and Common Grounds:  Pursuant to today’s on-site meeting, City is awaiting remediation plan from Valos’ structural engineer.

Anticipated Timeline for Lifting Condemnation of Lord Stanley’s/World Famous Pizza:  Again, based on work owner completed over the weekend and today’s meeting, could be as soon as tomorrow, April 10th.