By Aaron Besecker & Jonathan D. Epstein | BuffaloNews.com
Downtown commercial property owners want to turn up the heat on city officials to tighten regulations on food trucks in Buffalo, saying restaurant tenants in the central business district are being harmed when the mobile vendors park in front of their buildings.
The pressure from major area landlords comes as city officials and parties on both sides of the issue try to hammer out an agreement on proposed new regulations, which have been stalled in the Common Council since late July.
North District Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who is sponsoring a bill on food trucks, is calling for parties interested in the new requirements for mobile food sellers to meet next week in hopes of reaching a compromise between the vendors and restaurant owners.
“I want everybody to sit down,” Golombek told The Buffalo News. The meeting is scheduled for 10 a. m. next Thursday in Room 1417 in City Hall.
But some business owners aren’t
waiting to speak their mind.
Developer Carl Paladino led the charge Wednesday morning at the monthly meeting of Buffalo Place, calling for the board of the business improvement district to petition the city to stop issuing permits to food truck vendors who are “unfairly competing with tenants in buildings who pay good rent and taxes.”
“Allowing these vendors to park out front and put one of our tenants out of business is patently unfair,” said Paladino, citing Just Pizza and Charlie the Butcher in his Ellicott Square.
“It’s very, very unfair for this city to issue permits to these people to allow them to come downtown and compete with our tenancy . . . that are paying huge taxes.”
The Buffalo Place board is largely made up of major property developers and landlords, including Paladino, who is the biggest landowner in downtown Buffalo. Many of them have restaurants as tenants and appeared to agree with Paladino.
The Rev. Darius Pridgeon, the Ellicott District Council member who represents the downtown area and is on the Buffalo Place board, echoed Paladino’s comments. He said he thought the draft resolution would not allow food trucks in the downtown area governed by Buffalo Place.
“I don’t think it’d be wrong to say something,” he said, encouraging the building owners to notify the city if they see food trucks outside their downtown buildings.
“It sounds like your message has gotten out there,” Buffalo Place President Keith Belanger said.
He told Paladino to draft a formal resolution and bring it to the group’s next policy meeting for consideration before it goes to the full board.
“We have to stop the trucks now. The restaurants downtown are fed up with this,” Paladino said.
According to a Sept. 15 memo from City Inspections Commissioner James Comerford, the Permit and Inspections Services Department “strongly recommends” that any new law designate:
• “Pre-approved” vending sites, similar to taxi stands, where food trucks can operate.
• Fines of $150 for operating without a city license.
• Specified days and hours that food trucks can operate.
The department also wants any food truck law not to apply to the “special downtown district,” which has its own rules and is managed by Buffalo Place, according to the memo.
The department also recommends signs be posted at vending sites, to allow for “clear and precise” enforcement by police and inspectors. Vendors would get a list of approved vending sites when they obtain a license, under these recommendations.
Food truck operators are prohibited from opening on public property until the city enacts a law, except for several sites permitted by Buffalo Place. Food trucks are not banned from operating on private property.
Several large, locally owned fast-food restaurants objected to the proposed law that was tabled by city lawmakers July 28, saying the bill did not do enough to regulate the mobile vendors and opened their restaurants to unfair competition.
Two of the most outspoken restaurant executives lobbied individual lawmakers during the Council’s monthlong recess, Golombek said.
Ronald A. Lucchino, president of Elmwood Taco & Subs, and Mark D. Campanella, vice president of Just Pizza, met individually with Council members, he said.
Lucchino this week said he plans to participate in the upcoming discussion, saying he was among those who proposed having the dialogue to resolve the issue.
Christopher Taylor, of the Roaming Buffalo food truck, called the upcoming meeting “an excellent idea” and expressed frustration at his dealings with City Hall.
A one-month permit issued by the city wasn’t renewed at the end of August after a complaint from a downtown restaurant near the location where Taylor parked his truck, he said.
A group called Entrepreneurs for a Better Buffalo also has written the Council, calling for the creation of a committee or advisory board to handle the development of food truck regulations.
“Although mobile food vendors should be a part of the City of Buffalo’s economy and food scene,” Michael H. Kooshoian, the group’s attorney, wrote in a letter dated Sept. 15, “there must be an appropriate review of all issues before legislation is passed.”