How many food carts are too many in downtown Naperville?
It may be easier to get a treat from an outdoor food cart starting this summer in downtown Naperville.
Then again, it might not.
The city council on Tuesday will consider increasing the number of permits for downtown cart vendors from two to three -- a proposal that's drawing decidedly mixed reviews.
Three businesses have applied for the $275, two-year mobile food cart permits, and a committee of city staff members is recommending they all be approved.
But the decision may not be that easy because the city's downtown advisory commission on Thursday recommended the city council reject the request for a permit from a vendor who wants to sell Italian ice.
The two vendors who held the permits for the past year and a half -- John's Rib House and Joey's Red Hots -- both applied again and are recommended for approval at their same locations, outside the parking garage on Chicago Avenue for the ribs and on Main Street at the entrance to the Riverwalk for the hot dogs.
Little Jimmy's Italian Ice, meanwhile, wants to set up shop at the same spot as Joey's Red Hots. The cart Little Jimmy's would use is small and could fit within the vending space allowed at the Main Street location, said Allison Laff, planning operations manager.
Italian ices also would complement the hot dogs and brats Joey's Red Hots owner Joe Hornbaker has been selling on some summer days for the past few years, Laff said.
Members of the city's downtown advisory commission weren't too pleased when they heard the recommendation for a third permit. They said it contradicted a December 2013 city council decision to amend the then 3-year-old mobile food vendor program to allow two food carts instead of four.
"That seems like a shift. Didn't we approve just two?" said Katie Wood, an advisory commission member who is executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance. "I think it's a stretch, personally, that we've gone to three again when we had two locations, so one would assume that meant two vendors."
Christine Jeffries, president and CEO of the Naperville Development Partnership, said two downtown dessert businesses -- a Jamba Juice smoothie shop and a frozen yogurt place called B Happy Cafe -- recently closed, which proves the frozen sweet treats market is saturated.
City council member Judith Brodhead, who sits on the downtown advisory commission along with council member Joseph McElroy, said it's not so much about competition as it is about the appearance of supporting a vendor who would show up nearly expense-free on bright sunny days instead of a rent-paying downtown tenant.
"I really don't think an Italian ice vendor is going to put anybody out of business, but I understand that symbolically it looks as though you're supporting somebody who is not renting a space, not paying property taxes," Brodhead said.
She and the rest of the downtown advisory commission unanimously made a recommendation opposite of the city staff's and encouraged the city council to reject the Italian ice vendor's application for a permit.
The council will consider the opposing recommendations when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the municipal center at 400 S. Eagle St.