BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Food trucks are fast becoming a convenient alternative to brick and mortar restaurants but a fight over fees threatened to put the brakes on the growing industry.
The Buffalo Common Council had to do something, because the city's food truck regulations were about to expire April 1. Truck owners wanted lower fees and less red tape and they got at least some of what they asked for.
The Council approved a new set of regulations for food trucks Tuesday afternoon, cutting license renewal fees in half from $1,000 to $500. New food trucks still have to pay the $1,000 fee the very first time they apply for a license.
Niagara District Councilman David Rivera said, "I think we need to put the welcome mat out. We have to create a business climate where people want to come to Buffalo."
Fillmore District Councilman David Franczyk added, "Once the public safety criterion has is met - which is mandatory, absolutely mandatory - then we don't want to put restraints on this kind of entrepreneurship."
All food trucks are held to the same sanitation and health standards as restaurants. They are inspected every year by the Erie County Health Department, must follow guidelines for food preparation and handling of uncooked or raw products, and are required to have trash cans available for their customers.
The regulations approved Tuesday still require food trucks to stay at least 100 feet away from any open restaurant kitchen. Outside of those boundaries, they are free to move between locations whenever and wherever the operators wish.
At the Common Council hearing, several restaurant owners spoke in support of their food truck counterparts.
"I would be very happy if more trucks were parked near my restaurant in the University Heights area," Greg Kemp, the owner of Amy's Place on Main Street, said. "I think it would be great for all the local businesses, including non-restaurants... you know, Talking Leaves [Bookstore, etc.]. People would walk around more."
Edward Tierney, the owner of a business in Elmwood Village, cited the findings of a survey the Institute for Justice, in making his argument for the food trucks.
"Food trucks create jobs. They buy products and services from local businesses," Tierney read from his notes. "They contribute sales taxes and permit fees to the city... Food trucks serve as eyes on the street. They promote safety, and they make places more enjoyable to visit. Their presence has helped prevent crime, and it revitalizes underused public spaces."
"On many Friday nights, I work late enough to see the food trucks pull up," Tierney said. "The whole area jumps to a new level of energy. Taxis are there to pick up fares; money is spent on taxis. They come there because the people are there with the food trucks. People are milling around in the street, and it's a much safer place when they're there. Money is being spent, fun is being had."
Food trucks have to pay for a special permit, if they want to set up shop at festivals or the downtown area where Buffalo Place has vending rights. In cases where such a special use permit is granted, the trucks have to stay parked in one location.
Chris Taylor, owner of the Roaming Buffalo food truck, said, "The lowering of the renewal fee is what we need, to help us compete. That would be killing us."
Local restaurateur Tucker Curtin had asked the Council for more restrictions, including designated spaces for food trucks to park. Curtin asked for requirements that food trucks must park no less than 25 feet away from fire hydrants, intersections, and parking lot entryways. He also suggested food truck owners should have to obtain a regular restaurant license.
Curtin has drawn the anger of some of the food truck operators, and he knows it.
"A lot of people are like, 'Oh, you're afraid of competition!' And all this other stuff. I've been beat up by the internet really bad, in the last 24 hours," he laughed.
But he insists, he's not trying to pick on food truck operators or give them a hard time.
"I want to see these things thrive. I would like to find the places where these trucks should exist," Curtin said. "Those areas where food trucks are encouraged, those are the areas that we should set up as special zones, special parking for these trucks."
For Taylor and other food truck vendors, it's back to business as usual.
"We keep doing exactly what we've been doing in the city. Keeping our noses clean, serving great food... do it safely, to the public. And respecting other restaurants," Taylor said.
Curtin says his primary concern isn't competition, but safety.
Food trucks do have to follow all the same parking ordinances as regular traffic.
The new guidelines are valid for a period of one year.
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