Cof­fee ven­dor gets OK to use county park­ing lot

Res­i­dents take to so­cial me­dia to voice com­plaints

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com

Wee Bean Cof­fee Roast­ers, a cus­tomer fa­vorite at the La Plata Farm­ers’ Mar­ket, now has ap­proval to op­er­ate from the Charles County Govern­ment park­ing lot all week long.

The county granted the ap­proval last week while res­i­dents fumed on Wee Bean’s Face­book page that the ven­dor was be­ing forced out of the park­ing lot due to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure.

For its part, the county says that it was happy to grant the ap­proval and that no one had

been try­ing to kick the pop­u­lar food truck out of its tra­di­tional space at the far end of the over­flow lot on Wash­ing­ton Av­enue.

“It’s a ben­e­fit to all of us,” said county spokesper­son Jen­nifer Har­ris. “It’s a win­win. There’s no down­side.”

Har­ris noted that many county govern­ment em­ploy­ees are reg­u­lar Wee Bean pa­trons, as are em­ploy­ees of the Cir­cuit and Dis­trict Courts across Church Street.

Erich Her­rmann, Wee Bean’s owner, said that he has been a reg­u­lar at the twice-weekly farm­ers’ mar­ket for at least three years. In Au­gust he be­gan park­ing his trailer there on Fri­days as well.

Although Her­rmann did not have a per­mit to set up in the park­ing lot out­side of the farm­ers’ mar­ket, no one in the county govern­ment ob­jected. It was only when the county re­ceived two anony­mous com­plaints — one in Au­gust and one in early Septem­ber — that it looked into the sit­u­a­tion at the end of the month.

Har­ris said that a county se­cu­rity of­fi­cer vis­ited the food truck to make sure his pa­per­work was in order and to ask Her­rmann to fill out a form re­quest­ing ap­proval for the use of county prop­erty.

Her­rmann char­ac­ter­ized the visit as “con­fronta­tional.”

“He made us get out of the trailer,” Her­rmann said. “He ac­cused us of tres­pass­ing and threat­ened to have us towed.”

Har­ris said that that the county is ob­li­gated to in­ves­ti­gate all com­plaints that it re­ceives and that the se­cu­rity of­fi­cer tried to help Her­rmann com­plete the re­quired pa­per­work.

Her­rmann said that in ad­di­tion to au­to­mo­bile and li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance, he has a valid state busi­ness li­cense, a farm­ers’ mar­ket ven­dor li­cense and a health de­part­ment cer­tifi­cate.

What he didn’t have, how­ever, was a La Plata food truck per­mit and per­mis­sion from the county to op­er­ate in the park­ing lot out­side of the farm­ers mar­ket.

Her­mann said that the for­mer was taken care of on Thurs­day when La Plata ex­pe­dited a food truck per­mit over to him.

La Plata Town Clerk Danielle Man­d­ley told the Mary­land In­de­pen­dent that the town’s re­cently re­vised zon­ing code in­cludes a per­mit for mo­bile food ser­vice fa­cil­i­ties.

“At this time no fees have been adopted for this type of per­mit,” Man­d­ley said. “There are cer­tain re­quire­ments that must be main­tained, one of which is writ­ten per­mis­sion of the prop­erty owner.”

Deputy County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Deb­o­rah Hall said that it was this writ­ten per­mis­sion form that the se­cu­rity of­fi­cer sought to have Her­rmann com­plete. She said that Her­rmann had opted to com­plete the form in per­son at the county govern­ment build­ing, although he could also have filed it over the phone.

“It’s a very sim­ple onepage form,” Hall said.

Hall said that Wee Bean was the first ven­dor to ap­ply for per­mis­sion to use the park­ing lot, and be­cause of that the pro­ce­dure was “kind of a new process for us.”

“We ac­tu­ally need to do some work on our stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures ... to make sure we have ev­ery­thing in place for the use of our park­ing lot be­cause we do an­tic­i­pate oth­ers will have a de­sire to do the same thing,” Hall said. “We’re go­ing to re­visit the poli­cies and make sure we have things in place. I don’t an­tic­i­pate that will be dif­fi­cult ei­ther.”

The per­mit and ap­proval process be­came a mat­ter for pub­lic de­bate when Her­rmann took to Wee Bean’s Face­book page shortly af­ter the se­cu­rity of­fi­cer’s visit, writ­ing that he had been “or­dered to cease sales” on Fri­days “due to lo­cal pol­i­tics, the com­plaints of a few and the in­de­ci­sive ex­pla­na­tions of ju­ris­dic­tion and reg­u­la­tion.”

The post even­tu­ally reached over 100 com­ments and more than 80 shares, and gar­nered over 250 re­ac­tions.

Many of the com­ments ac­cused Com­mis­sioner Amanda Ste­wart (D) of ex­ert­ing po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence to try and eject Wee Bean be­cause her hus­band is the man­ager of the Star­bucks fran­chise at the cor­ner of U.S. 301 and Charles Street, less than a mile away.

The ac­cu­sa­tions stung Ste­wart into com­ment­ing on the county’s ap­proval of Wee Bean’s ap­pli­ca­tion dur­ing last Tues­day’s Board of County Com­mis­sion­ers open ses­sion.

Although she did not ad­dress the Face­book ac­cu­sa­tion di­rectly in her com­ments, she did al­lude to them.

“One of the things that I think is good is so­cial me­dia, but it tends to be a dou­ble-sided sword [in] that some­times mis­in­for­ma­tion is shared with the pub­lic,” Ste­wart said in her brief re­marks.

“I’m re­ally proud that ... we were able to work with the com­pany to en­sure that all the per­mits and all the pa­per­work [were] in place so that ev­ery­one is pro­tected while the com­pany is serv­ing our res­i­dents,” Ste­wart said.

Ste­wart told the Mary­land In­de­pen­dent that she had been alerted to the “per­sonal deroga­tory com­ments about my­self and a fam­ily mem­ber” by a friend.

“I don’t com­ment on Face­book,” Ste­wart said. “That’s just a per­sonal way that I live my life as a com­mis­sioner. But I wanted to fig­ure out what was go­ing on.”

Ste­wart said that by the time she be­came in­volved, county staff were well on their way to re­solv­ing the is­sue.

“I’ve been do­ing this now for four years and some things shouldn’t sur­prise me, and I get that. But I’m hu­man,” Ste­wart said. “I saw com­ments [on the Face­book post] about kick­backs and [claim­ing] my hus­band wants him to fail, and I’m think­ing, ‘It’s crazy.’”

Ste­wart said that peo­ple for­get that she was the com­mis­sioner who in­tro­duced the leg­is­la­tion that was ul­ti­mately passed to al­low food truck ven­dors in Charles County.

The zon­ing text amend­ment was in fact the first bill that Ste­wart spon­sored as a com­mis­sioner.

“I be­lieve food trucks should have the abil­ity to sell their food, and it’s up to the county and the health de­part­ment to make sure [the ven­dor is] up to code,” Ste­wart said. “Why would peo­ple think I would have any­thing to do with this?”

On Wed­nes­day, Her­rmann posted on Face­book ac­knowl­edg­ing that the sit­u­a­tion had been taken care of.

“As many of you may know, [we] hit a bump in the road last week and are happy to an­nounce we have smoothed things out and have reached an agree­ment with Charles County Govern­ment to bring craft cof fee to our com­mu­nity on Fri­days once again,” Her­rmann wrote. “We would like to thank Charles County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and our cus­tomers for their sup­port and ef­forts in re­solv­ing th­ese mat­ters.”

“With that be­ing said WE ARE BACK!” he wrote.

Her­rmann said that he be­lieved the so­cial me­dia at­ten­tion had been ef­fec­tive in rais­ing aware­ness of his sit­u­a­tion.

“It ab­so­lutely helped,” Her­rmann said. “It put a lot of pres­sure on the county, es­pe­cially with the elec­tion com­ing.”

Although the county ap­proval means that Wee Bean can op­er­ate out of the park­ing lot all week long, Her­rmann said that he is plan­ning to stick with Fri­days for now in ad­di­tion to the farm­ers mar­ket.

“We’ve sort of grown that au­di­ence,” he said.

STAFF PHOTO BY PAUL LAGASSE

Erich Her­rmann, owner of Wee Been Cof­fee Roast­ers, the pop­u­lar food truck that op­er­ates out of the Charles County Govern­ment park­ing lot in La Plata, cred­ited pub­lic re­ac­tion to a so­cial me­dia post in help­ing him se­cure ap­proval to sell from the park­ing lot all week long.

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