By Jill Terreri
Today in City Hall, a crowd is expected at 2 p.m. in Council chambers as lawmakers hear from the public on what kind of restrictions and fees should be imposed on food truck operators.
The Council has its own proposal that it is expected to vote on during a special session at 4 p.m. today, but lawmakers will hear from interested parties on what the city should do before the existing food truck ordinance expires April 1. The Council could propose changes to the city's ordinance based on what they hear today.
Food truck owners and their supporters are expected to show up at 2 p.m. and advocate for lower permit fees (as they did two weeks ago), while a contingent of brick-and-mortar restaurant owners will propose tough new regulations on the trucks, from where they can operate to a new rule that would require a GPS unit in each truck so the city can track them.
Representing the restaurants is lawyer Barry N. Covert of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, who will discuss rules proposed by Covert and Main Street restaurateur Tucker Curtin, owner of The Steer and Lake Effect Diner. Curtin's proposed ordinance imposes many more rules on the trucks, though the biggest may be prohibiting the trucks from operating within 100 feet from any private property containing "commercial or residential dwellings" without permission from the owner or tenants. This is a huge change from the current (and Council-proposed) rules, which prohibit the trucks from operating within 100 feet of any open restaurant kitchen.
“I don’t really like commercial enterprises in my residential neighborhood,” Curtin said Monday.
Curtin is also proposing that trucks be prohibited from parking within 25 feet of a fire hydrant, intersection or a driveway to a parking lot larger than 10 spaces. He is also suggesting a requirement that all food truck owners be licensed to operate a restaurant; that a peddler's license be obtained for all truck employees; that trucks abide by different rules inside of all of the city's special districts, such as those on Hertel and Elmwood (right now different rules only apply to those trucks wishing to operate downtown, where Buffalo Place has jurisdiction); and notes that the trucks can sell beverages, as the existing ordinance mentions only food.
Two weeks ago when the Legislation Committee heard from the public on this topic, Curtin was the lone restaurateur to favor more regulations for the trucks, while food truck operators brought about 30 people to support their position that the city should lower its $1,000 fee for new trucks. (Curtin is expected to be joined by other business owners today.) Two weeks ago, food truck supporters included restaurateurs who invite the trucks to set up near their establishment after they close their kitchens to serve food to their bar patrons. The trucks have effectively used social media to let their customers know where they will be every day, and they are expected to draw a crowd to the chambers today.
The Legislation Committee will hear from the public at 2 p.m., and at 4 p.m., a special session will be held for the full Council to vote on an ordinance amendment prepared by North Council Member Joseph Golombek.
Golombek's amendment renews the existing ordinance, which continues to restrict the trucks from serving within 100 feet of any open restaurant kitchen, but reduces the fee from $1,000 to $500 for trucks that need to renew their city permit to operate. A $1,000 permit fee for new trucks is maintained. The new rules also require a fire inspection, and do not change the boundaries of the downtown vending district managed by Buffalo Place. For the trucks to operate in this district, they must pay an additional fee, sometimes as much as $1,300, and must agree to operate at a fixed location, unlike in the rest of the city where the trucks have more freedom to roam, as long as they abide by existing parking rules and are not within 100 feet of an open restaurant kitchen, or within 500 feet of a special event.