The Amherst Town Board voted Monday to dump a proposed food truck permit law after about 20 food truck operators and community speakers decried the law as unfair, unreasonable, a tax on small businesses and an affront to the American Dream.
The board also agreed to “start from scratch” and come back with a revised law that would address more of the food truck operators’ concerns after a two-hour public hearing in a packed house that included some ardent arguments and a few tears.
In the meantime, however, the town’s archaic law applying to peddlers, junk dealers and other transient businesses will remain in place. That leaves up in the air the question of what food truck operators will do in Amherst until a new law is adopted.
Mitch Stenger, the lawyer who represents the Western New York Food Truck Association, called the board’s actions a “half-victory.”
“We’re happy they did not vote on it tonight, and they will work toward a revised or proper statute, but we’re frustrated this process has taken as long as it has,” he said.
The town was motivated to create a specific food truck permit after the embarrassment of last fall, when town police and code-enforcement officers suddenly shut down food trucks, turned away hungry patrons and endangered a food truck fundraising event for the City Mission because of its outdated law.
Key among the issues that concerned the board was the one-hour limit for food trucks operating on public streets, vague language associated with the 100-foot distance rule from any business that has prepared food, and the hour restrictions on when the trucks can operate.
Some council members also expressed interest in seeing the fees reduced on the food trucks, or at least seeing the renewal fees reduced.
The town’s proposed permit requirements would not have restricted food trucks in private parking lots, where the trucks do the most business in town, but food trucks would have been forbidden from operating for more than an hour on streets.
The Amherst proposal also would not have allowed trucks to be parked within 60 feet of any intersection for traffic safety and visibility reasons, and, like Buffalo, they could not have been located within 100 feet of any open kitchen without permission. Unlike Buffalo, the trucks would have had to shut down by 9 p.m. in residential neighborhoods and 11 p.m. in nonresidential areas.
Amherst’s annual permit would have required a $500 fee for the first truck and $250 for each additional truck operating in town.
“The biggest problem, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is the 60-minute time limit,” Stenger said, adding that he knows of only one other community in the country that has such a limit.
He and other food truck operators also complained about restrictions on hours of operation and other rules that they said would crush innovative, cutting-edge small-business operators.
Peter Cimino, co-owner of Lloyd Taco Truck, said, “I personally believe this should be a resident decision. ... I have a lot of people who are upset that this proposal is being moved forward without their input.”
He then handed the board a heavy petition, several inches thick, with more than 3,400 signatures against the town permit proposal, saying half the signers live in the Town of Amherst.
The town isn’t regulating Netflix, which competes with Blockbuster, or pizza restaurants that offer delivery, he said. Neither should they try to regulate food trucks in a free enterprise system, he said.
Kelly Brewer, owner of the Sweet Hearth food truck, and Valerie Taylor, owner of the Roaming Buffalo food truck, got choked up at the microphone as they recounted the hard work and dreams they’ve poured into their food truck business.
“I’m a self-starter and I work hard,” said Taylor, a Snyder resident. “I’ve never asked for a handout from anyone. Everything I have, I’ve worked very hard for.”
Board members said they agreed that changes were necessary but were concerned at the timetable required to make changes. Building Commissioner Thomas Ketchum said it would take at least two months to make the needed changes.
Supervisor Barry Weinstein said he doubts the matter will be resolved so quickly.
“Two months is excessively optimistic,” Weinstein said.
The board agreed to bring the matter back for consideration at its next meeting.
In other news:
• The board voted to put forth to voters a proposition to keep the board at six members instead of downsizing to five, as is currently planned.
• Weinstein is officially announcing his intention to run for another term as supervisor today.
Read the live blog from Monday’s meeting here