Three entities clashed at the Sept. 12 Payson Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, with a small-business owner’s livelihood on the line.
All Low and Slow BBQ owner Keith Steele wanted to do was operate his food cart business at the roundabout at Airport Road and the Beeline Highway.
All the property owner George Bien-Willner wanted to do was rent out a piece of his property.
All Payson staff wanted to do was make Bien-Willner get rid of a small, abandoned, one-time coffee stand on the other side of the property.
And in the end — as you might have guessed — it was the little guy with his business on the line that got caught in the middle.
The collision of good intentions and bureaucracy played out this week in a Planning and Zoning Commission’s Conditional Use Permit hearing that often sounded more like a prosecution than a search for solutions.
“This issue involving this structure has the impact to hurt this business,” said Planning Commission Vice Chair Vincent Herman.
The $12 million in sales tax revenues contributed by local businesses this year pay for the bulk of town operations — from police and fire to street maintenance.
But Steele’s battle with the town illustrates how easily the town’s thicket of rules can trap a small-business owner.
Steele got caught in a long-running effort by the town to force the property owners to get rid of a tiny, defunct red coffee stand that had to move when ADOT built the roundabout — putting another small-business owner out of business.
The whole tangled mess goes back to early this year, when Steele struck a deal with Bien-Willner to serve food from his food cart in Bien-Willner’s dirt lot. Bien-Willner also owns the 260 Cafe property and the antique store next door.
So Steele parked his food truck and started selling barbecue.
Town officials said he would need to get a business license, a food handlers permit and a conditional use permit.
So Steele got his business license and food-handlers permit.
The conditional use permit proved a lot more complicated.
In April, the town issued a temporary use permit so Steele could keep selling pulled pork. However, the town also ruled that Bien-Willner would need a permanent conditional use permit or Steele would have to stop smoking. And this gave the town leverage to force Bien-Willner to get rid of the abandoned coffee shack that had been sitting on the property for years.
In July, the town had a second CUP meeting to discuss the shack. Only Steele attended. Turns out, Bien-Willner was in the hospital.
The town gave Steele until Aug. 11 to get rid of the completely unrelated shack — even though it wasn’t his property. Steele didn’t understand at the time that the town could revoke his temporary use permit if the shack didn’t vanish.
On Aug. 10, town staff went out to check on progress. Seeing none, they told Steele his temporary use permit would now be revoked, shutting him down.
Bien-Willner called Deputy Town Manager Sheila DeSchaaf the next day, “with objection to any action on the business or property until the following week,” according to the staff report.
DeSchaaf, “explained that staff does not have the authority to change the CUP or the deadlines posed and that an official appeal would need to be submitted at the end of the day,” according to the staff report.
However, Bien-Willner did not file an appeal.
And this led to this week’s hearing.
Bien-Willner’s son, Jerry, an attorney, represented the property owners. He urged a 120-day delay so his parents would have time to figure out what to do.
Contract town attorney Jon Paladini suggested the commission end the whole CUP process — but delay implementation for 90 days.
So Steele can keep selling smoked meat — and the property owners have 90 days to do something about the coffee stand.
Herman expressed resignation at the complexity of the situation.
“We’re not a development department. We are not a Planning and Zoning Commission in search of a code violation,” he said. “But this is a solution that has a very real consequence to a human trying to follow a business dream and plan.”