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Wagner likely to rescind vendor bill Ensuring free enterprise cited as reason


A bill that would limit the number of days that roadside vendors could operate annually outside Harford's three municipalities appears to be headed for a legislative death.

The bill's sponsor, County Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, said last week that so many amendments have been attached to the bill that he probably will remove it from full council consideration at Tuesday night's meeting.

"I've been told there are already seven pages of amendments," he said. "If that's the case, I'll pull it."

The bill (No. 93-12) was introduced in response to complaints initially by seafood restaurant owners. They were joined by other retailers who say their businesses are hurt by roadside sellers who set up shop primarily during summer.

William Craig, owner of Wet Willy's Crab Deck, said he is not surprised by Mr. Wagner's threat and that if the bill is pulled he is prepared to put his own trucks at every intersection possible to compete with the peddlers and hawkers.

"I will not attempt to fight this through legislation," he said from his restaurant on Pulaski Highway in Edgewood. "I'll just play by the rules as they now exist."

Mr. Craig said he and a group of retailers have tried for at least two years to get legislation enacted not only to protect their interests but also to be able to compete on equal terms with roadside vendors who pay only a $40 fee to set up shop.

"It's unfair that these people are allowed to operate and not pay the county the same fees I have to," he said, pointing out that permanent businesses have fixed costs and overhead including payroll, insurance, water and sewer tax, gas and electric and telephone bills. "They [vendors] do not contribute anything to the county economy."

Mr. Wagner, who said that he had reservations even before he introduced the bill, expressed concern about interfering with free enterprise just because "some retailers are worried about competition."

A commercial farmer and cattle raiser himself, he said, "The country is based on the free enterprise system, and I don't want to be accused of putting anyone, no matter how small, out of business."

He said that he has received many telephone calls concerning the issue. He said an anonymous caller told him that one of the more vocal restaurant owners was buying crabs from Louisiana.

"If we can stop the general public from buying crabs at a lower cost from a roadside vendor can we then force a restaurant owner to purchase crabs from Maryland watermen only?" he asked. "Where do we draw the line?"

According to county law, vendors who set up temporary sales sites in the county on private land -- with permission of the property owner, a county zoning permit and license from the state -- may do so for no more than 185 days.

The Wagner bill would slash the number of allowable days to seven in a year.

It does, however, contain a clause that if a vendor has written permission from the property owner to use the site up to 185 days or even beyond 185 days, he or she may do so. In addition, if that permission is granted, the vendor would no longer need to pay the $40 licensing fee.

It is the 185-day clause that restaurant and retail store owners want drastically cut or eliminated. Doing so, retailers say, would put them on a more equal playing field.

Harford's three municipalities -- Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace -- have different ordinances dealing with hawkers and peddlers who set up temporarily.

Last year, Bel Air enacted codes that restrict temporary sales to three days annually.

In Aberdeen, temporary vendors are allowed to set up any time on commercial property provided they purchase a permit and do not cause a safety hazard.

Havre de Grace does not allow temporary sales on commercial property but does allow three days of sales in the city's residential business district with proper permits.

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