It seems like there are more important things for the city to do than go after vending machines, Russell Wantz said as he flipped through pictures of his York City car wash business.

Tucked between the pages was the reason Wantz had showed up at a York City Council meeting.

In a letter dated May 2, the city informed Wantz he had 30 days to remove two vending machines enclosed in a three-wall building on his property. One sells soda. The other sells car-wash products.

"My whole facility is vending out there," Wantz told the council. "None of it's on the sidewalk. Why would I receive a letter?"

Wantz was one of six York City business owners who had a lot to say Tuesday about the letters sent to more than 80 property owners this month.

The city is gearing up to enforce a part of its new zoning ordinance, passed last year, that essentially bans outdoor vending machines, said Kevin Schreiber, the city's director of community and economic development.

When the ordinance was being developed, advocates promoted the ban as a way to improve the city's look and cut down on littering and vandalism, Schreiber said.

The letters were sent to notify property owners that their vending machines were a violation of the ordinance. Official cease-and-desist orders would give owners another 30 days to comply, followed by the city's filing a civil suit, Schreiber said.

"This was not an attempt to grab pitchforks and go after anyone," he told a gathering crowd shortly after the meeting. "We're happy to work with you."

Council President Carol Hill-Evans said the public had many opportunities to comment on the zoning ordinance when it was being proposed.

"We spent years trying to get this right," she said.

According to the letters, the zoning ordinance prohibits vending machines on sidewalks or in the public right-of-way. But many of the business owners, like Wantz, said their machines are far from both.

Joe Gurreri said he's had vending machines at his auto-repair shop for nearly 50 years. They sit 75 feet from the sidewalk, he said.

"I don't see why I should have to remove them," he said.

Both Hill-Evans and Schreiber said they would research whether existing vending machines should be allowed to remain as grandfathered nonconforming uses.

Unless something gives, Ray Shaffer said he figures he has more to lose than most. The owner of American Music Machine Vending, a business his father started decades ago, said he has about 25 soda and snack machines scattered throughout the city. All of them sit on private property, he said.

Shaffer said he also got a letter about the soda machines outside his East Market Street office.

"We're just saying, 'Hey, we use this money to pay taxes,'" Shaffer told the council. "It's not the best time to do this kind of thing. I don't think there's any deadbeats here."

Several other business owners said they also offset property taxes with vending-machine revenue.

That's the case for Charles Braun, a laundromat owner who said he's had soda machines outside his business for 40 years.

Debora Ness, who owns the Jim and Nena's Pizzeria at 501 W. Philadelphia St., said the soda machine at her business has been there for 20 years.

"Now they're saying it has to be removed," she told the council. "I don't think it's fair."

- Reach Erin James at 505-5439, ejames@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @ydcity.