By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
CITY OF TONAWANDA — After a month of debate, the City of Tonawanda council unanimously passed a local law governing food trucks Tuesday night that the mobile vendor operators say is still too strict.
The resolution requires food truck operators to pay a $100 permitting fee for the rest of the 2013 year, and makes it illegal for food trucks to operate within 100 feet of a brick and mortar restaurant. Although the annual fee on Tuesday’s agenda was initially $400, the council agreed to prorate the rest of the year.
The measure expires at the end of 2013, when the council will re-evaluate the regulations.
“We want to make sure this works for the vendors and for the food facilities in Tonawanda,” City Attorney Ron Trabucco said. “This gives us a change to reassess it at the end of the year.”
Until Tuesday night, food trucks were free to operate on public property because the city had no law on the books regulating the relatively new mobile food vendors. The matter was first brought up last month, after restaurants on Niagara Street complained of food trucks operating near their businesses.
The council’s early talks centered on a resolution that would keep the mobile vendors away from the most populated areas of the city. The council’s first proposed resolution would have made it illegal for food trucks to operate within 1,000 feet of a restaurant, which would have knocked the vendors off Main and Niagara streets. The original proposal also specified an application fee of $1,000, with a $500 annual renewal.
Attorney Mitchell Stenger, who represents Western New York food trucks, argued for lower requirements at a series of meetings over the past month. He continued to do so Tuesday.
“We still consider $400 to be high. That is nearly as high as the City of Buffalo, and is the same as the Town of Amherst,” Stenger said. “With all due respect, the City of Tonawanda is not the City of Buffalo and it is not the Town of Amherst.”
He presented the council with 27 large cities that have a fee less than $400, and said the city should consider a renewal fee that is less than the original application cost. Stenger also proposed that the council allow a fee for a six-month period that would allow food trucks an affordable way to operate in the city for the summer.
Although Stenger said he wouldn’t take issue with the 100-foot radius requirement at Tuesday’s meeting, he said he plans to contest it at the start of next year when talks resume.
“We are not a fan of proximity constraints,” he said, noting that a city shouldn’t be regulating competition between restaurants and food trucks. “In the future, we would like to get the 100-foot requirement lowered.”
He also argued that contrary to the city’s current policy, the food trucks should be allowed in parks. Niawanda Park had been a popular spot for food trucks to set up shop prior to the regulations put in place.
“I think you should try it and see how it works,” he said to the council. “I think we could bring even more people to the parks.”
Representatives from three food truck companies were at the meeting Tuesday, and Pete Cimino, of Lloyd Taco Truck, echoed many of Stenger’s comments.
“We are really just a transient business ... like a plumber, who is based in Kenmore, but also travels and has permits in other towns,” he said. “We need to view this more in that way.”
Cimino said he is still interested in getting a Tonawanda permit and trying it out for the rest of the year.
“I would like to be here at least once a week,” he said.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting:
• Councilwoman Heather Little announced that she is stepping down from her position due to her move to Hamburg. Tuesday was her last meeting, and Council President Carleton Zeisz said they have not decided whether they will fill her position before November’s election.
• Zeisz also announced that an informational session on the Little League Drive development housing plans will take place at 7 p.m. Aug. 27. Representatives from developer Natale, and the lawyer who represented the city in negotiations with the company, will lead the session.
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley