Mobile Law Clinic May Be Illegal in Raleigh

By Brent Woodcox

If you remember way back in 2017 Raleigh’s city council began working on mobile retail regulations. At the time, this site covered the controversy that remains unresolved up to this point.

What is frustrating to me are some of the other regulations that are being considered:

1. Permit mobile retail in some of the mixed use zoning districts (OX, NX, CX, IX).

2. Identify development standards associated with the use, such as separation from a building, separation from a building entrance, location within a parking lot, restriction on number of hours permitted per day.

3. Requirement that merchandise be located within an enclosed trailer

4. Specify the appropriate items that can be sold

5. Prohibition of a power drop or power supply run from the building to the mobile retailer

6. Allowance for a portable A-frame sign

Why not more zoning districts? I’m not saying that we should have these opening up shop in residential areas but why shouldn’t they be allowed to set up in any commercial or industrial district where permission has been granted by the private property owner?

Why should there be a restriction the number of hours for sales per day? Do we have that for brick and mortar stores? What does it accomplish?

The merchandise has to be in an enclosed trailer? What about a sidewalk sale? Why can’t some displays be outside to try to draw customers in? Again, is this illegal for brick and mortar stores?

Why are power supplies outlawed? Fire code? Shouldn’t existing regulations be enough to protect against safety issues?

I feel like much of this is regulation for regulation’s sake. Another symptom of the mentality that the default posture of government is to regulate or prohibit activity rather than the default setting be for freedom and individual rights.

We need to change that mentality to allow entrepreneurs and innovators in small business to prosper in Raleigh.

Just this week, a mobile law clinic operated by Osborn, Gambale, Beckley & Budd started offering its services pro bono to people who may not have the money to afford a lawyer. Seems like a great idea and a genuinely valuable way to serve people in need of legal aid in Raleigh. Unfortunately, it’s not currently legal in Raleigh.

Just last September, the whole effort to create regulations to allow mobile retail was scuttled. In the months since, a new proposal has come forward from city councilors. There will be a public hearing on the issue in front of council at their May 7 meeting.

In addition to limiting the use to mixed use zoning districts, which make up a relatively small portion of the city, there are oodles more regulations than were even proposed in 2017. There is a complete ban even on private property except in very specific circumstances. Probably the most key regulation is this:

A site may host a mobile retail event, which consists of hosting a mobile vehicle or vehicles, for a maximum of four hours in one day. A mobile retail event may include two consecutive days, but no more than two. A site may host a mobile retail event for a maximum of ten total events within one calendar year.

So this new mobile law clinic helping to serve Raleigh’s underserved citizens will be limited to operating 10 weekends per year.

Again, I am forced to wonder. What exactly is this city council protecting us from?

Pro bono legal services? Access to justice for all? Charity?

Hopefully, once these wrongheaded, myopic regulations are passed by city council, the mobile clinic can file a lawsuit on their own behalf.

Maybe they’ll even find a free lawyer.

Brent Woodcox