Traditionally, ice has been sold at stores via large ice chests or boxes situated just inside retail stores or along the front sidewalk near the building entrance/exit. These units were often rented from, maintained, and serviced by ice manufacturers such as Home City Ice, Polar Ice, Arctic Glacier Ice, and Reddy Ice. This meant regular visits by company trucks to restock and service the equipment. It also sometimes meant part of the sidewalk might be blocked.
More recently a new trend in ice sales has developed where freestanding ice making/selling kiosks or ice houses are franchised or purchased outright by owner-investors and are located in a business parking lot or on the sidewalk adjacent the primary land use. These units are often connected to the community’s public water system and produce the ice/filtered-purified water directly onsite. Commonly, these structures are placed at or near convenience stores, gas stations, liquor stores, campgrounds, marinas, and similar uses. Though unattended, the new ice kiosks in particular can be reminiscent of the drive-thru Fotomats of the 1960s-1980s.
Unlike the traditional retail ice chests/boxes, many ice kiosks and house designs provide a connection to a public water source and produce the retail ice and water onsite. The retail prices for both ice and water appear to be considerably less than buying the same inside a store.
Three (3) vendors/manufacturers tend to dominate the freestanding ice house/kiosk business. These are:
- Ice House America (Moultrie, GA) – has established more 3,500 ice houses/kiosks/vending machines under the Twice the Ice and Ice Born brands globally.
- Kooler Ice (Byron, GA) – has established more than 1,500 ice kiosks globally.
- Polar Station (Winfield, MO) – locations primarily in the Midwest and Great Plains.
- Bag of Ice (Lake City, FL) – locations primarily in the South.
For planners and zoning administrators, these freestanding units open up a series of questions and/or issues to address. They include, but are not limited to:
- Accessory or ancillary use – local officials will need to decide if these facilities are an accessory or ancillary use to the primary use on the site. If not, many codes prohibit multiple primary uses on the same parcel.
- Off-street parking – facilities observed, especially the larger ice houses generally have two (2) or three (3) off-street spaces dedicated to them above and beyond the primary land use. The smaller kiosks may not need this many spaces. In addition, to prevent damage to the units, bollards are standard fare around ice houses/kiosks where vehicles are operating.
- Exterior appearance – given their mechanical appearance, some communities may require additional measures to keep the icehouses/kiosks consistent with the aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhoods or the community’s vision. Below’s an example of one from Rowlett, Texas where a “brick-like” exterior and roofing was required. The unit looks very nice, but landscaping is missing.
- Landscaping – as is evident from photos available online (see above) and from visiting some of these facilities, there is limited to no landscaping. Landscaping should be required in a manner that improves aesthetics while also promoting safety.
- Loading zone – for those units/structures that have public water hookups, a loading zone would probably be unnecessary. For units/structures where ice is delivered, a loading zone may be necessary. Regardless, a parking space should be available for maintenance.
- Hours of operation – unless limited by local regulations, these facilities would likely operate 24/7/365.
- Lighting and security – these facilities and the surrounding area should be lit in accordance with local requirements, which are preferably dark-sky compliant.
- Signage – given that ice houses and kiosks are rarely the principal use on the site, signage should be limited to secondary status. In the photo below, this ice house has far too much signage. Flags, spinners, and banners should also be discouraged other than for grand-openings.
- Exposed mechanical equipment – the community should determine whether mechanical equipment is shielded from view. Below is an example from Mesquite, Texas where a brick-like design was used, but the rooftop cooling system/compressor remains visible.