Tonawanda News

August 7, 2013

Food trucks make their case

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

CITY OF TONAWANDA — A lawyer representing Western New York food truck owners advocated for his clients Tuesday arguing at a City of Tonawanda council meeting that the vendors could bring more visitors and business to the municipality.

“Brick and mortar restaurants are afraid there is an uneven playing field, but we are just trying to get on the field,” attorney Mitchell Stenger said. “Give us a chance and see how we do.”

His comments came after the council discussed strict regulations of the food trucks at the body’s last meeting. The original proposed ordinance would have made it illegal for food trucks to operate within a 1,000-foot radius of any brick and mortar restaurant. The measure also specified an application fee of $1,000, and a $500 annual renewal fee.

The proposal was initially designed to keep food trucks away from Niagara and Main streets after brick and mortar restaurants complained of food trucks operating near their businesses.

Tuesday, council members said they had agreed to lower both the radius requirement and fees, but there was no confirmed consensus and a specific measure was not on the table.

Stenger, who attended the work session with Lloyd Taco Truck co-founder Pete Cimino, said he hoped the ordinance was not more restrictive than Amherst’s current law — which designates a 100-foot radius requirement, a $400 initial application fee and a $200 fee for renewing the permit.

“If you come up with restrictions that prevent food trucks from operating on Niagara and Main streets, I’m going to be obligated to challenge them in a court of law or public opinion,” Stenger said.

He also said that even a $400 fee may be too high due to the small size of the city. In response, Councilman Blake Boyle said the estimated 600,000 people that visit Niawanda Park every year must be taken into account.

“But the food trucks wouldn’t be allowed in the park, anyway,” Stenger said. “And I don’t understand why you would want to do that, where there are no other options for people.”

But Council President Carleton Zeisz seemed to disagree. 

“They just can pull up, serve food and leave. What’s in it for us?” he asked.

In response, Stenger argued that food trucks can bring more people into the city, and therefore benefit other businesses. He said about three or four trucks are interested in coming to Tonawanda, and said that although he understands the concerns surrounding the matter, food trucks and restaurants don’t compete for business.

“They pay property taxes, they’re afraid it is going to steal business,” he said. “But people go to food trucks and restaurants for different reasons ... one for ambiance, to sit down, and the other for a quick bite ... it is apple and oranges.”

In closing, Stenger and Cimino provided the council with information on food truck laws from the Institute of Justice, which offers advice on what laws are best for all parties involved. The council also received a list of the fees cities across the nation charge food trucks, which range from $50 to over $1,000 in some communities. 

Stenger said he is hoping a fair resolution will be passed before the council in the coming weeks that can serve as a trial for the rest of the summer.

“We can see how it works, and come back here in the spring to reconsider,” he said.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.