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Food Fight: Food Truck Rules On Plates Of Amherst Lawmakers

6:59 PM, Apr 5, 2013   |    comments
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AMHERST, NY - Erie County's largest town is the latest battle ground in the food truck wars, as a host of new regulations will be on the plates of lawmakers when the town board meets on Monday, almost none of which the food truck operators find palatable.

The ingredients for this showdown began to be mixed last fall, when a food truck operator set up at an office park, at the invitation of the property owner, but was told to move along by police because he didn't have a permit.

The town soon discovered its existing laws on the matter were unclear.

"We welcome these businesses, but there's going to be restrictions" said Town Councilman Mark Manna. "There has to be restrictions that each side is going to have to live with."

Food truck operators say the restrictions as proposed are onerous and not practical.

Under the proposed law, food trucks would need a permit to operate whether on private or public property, which will cost them $500 per truck per year. Operators will also have to pass a criminal background check.

Food trucks would not be allowed to set up within 100 feet of an existing restaurant, and if they operate on a public street or right of way, they would have to be at least 60 feet away from an intersection and would be allowed to operate for no more than 60 minutes per day. 

While the attorney representing the Western New York Food Truck Association finds all of it unappetizing, he says the restriction on operating hours is the hardest to stomach.

"That's just not feasible for the trucks," said Mitch Stenger of the law firm of Kloss Stenger and Lotempio.

"They can't make any money by operating for just an hour. They don't want to be there all day, but they need to be there for at least a couple hours," Stenger told WGRZ-TV. "The trucks are being nickeled and dimed to a death by a thousand cuts."

Stenger, whose clients also believe the annual permit fee should be no more than $250, notes town boards generally don't attempt to tell traditional brick and mortar restaurants when they can open and close.

"Denny's is still open 24 hours a day last I checked," he said, in calling the proposals regarding food trucks restrictive and discriminatory.

"It's just ridiculous and frustrating" said Kelly Brewer, proprietor of Sweet Hearth Mobile Baking and Catering, who last year left her job at AT&T to plunge into the food truck business, hoping to turn her love of baking into a profitable venture.

Brewer fears other towns and villages will follow the lead of Amherst and the City of Buffalo in charging rates for permits that she believes are exorbitant.

"I mean...what if it's $500 from every municipality? We're just not going to be able to stay in business...there's just no way," Brewer told Two On Your Side.

Loyal food truck customers like John Van Zwieten are outraged.

"I for one will go out of my way to avoid Amherst businesses if they push through these anti-competitive regulations on our food trucks," said Van Zwieten, who enjoys the twice monthly visits by Lloyd's Taco Truck to the Centerpointe Office Park on Essjay Drive. 

"My co-workers and I look forward to this...they're just messing with something that doesn't hurt anyone and is great for us," Van Zwieten told Channel 2 News.

On the other side of the issue are restaurateurs, who say they pay property taxes for town services like police and fire, something also extended to food trucks, when they literally roll in and attract potential customers.

"They believe the food trucks should be paying something for those town services as well if they're going to operate here," noted Town Supervisor Barry Weinstein.

"We need to have some restrictions so the residents are protected, and businesses that have been around for decades are protected," said Manna. "That's what we're trying to accomplish on Monday."

Besides being involved in still a relatively new business model of food service, food truck operators are utilizing the latest means of communication to gain support for their cause.

An online petition started Thursday evening, garnered more than 1,700 electronic signatures within 24 hours, which will be presented to the town board when it takes up the new regulations Monday night.

Click on the video player to watch ours story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bob Mancuso. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2.

WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com

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