Visitors to Niawanda Park may soon be able to purchase a burrito, sandwich or hot dog from their favorite food truck if a resolution before the Tonawanda Common Council goes forward.
But, as in other municipalities that have considered allowing the popular rolling kitchens, tensions are flaring between the trucks and their bricks-and-mortar competitors, Mississippi Mudds and Old Man River.
The Council last week, after objections from the owner of two restaurants near the park, proposed increasing from 100 to 150 feet the minimum radius that trucks will have to maintain from a restaurant’s main entrance or service window.
“In essence, what this resolution is trying to do is come to a happy medium between our business owners, who do pay taxes, and the food trucks,” said Mayor Rick Davis, who is not a Council member but said he suggested the increase.
The Council in August agreed to allow food trucks to operate in the city – though not in its parks – as a trial run that expired on Dec. 31. No restaurant owner spoke out in opposition at that time.
Since that trial ended and as warmer weather approaches, the Council has considered amendments to the ordinance, such as allowing trucks in city parks, changing the proximity limit and lowering the annual application fee to $250. The Council may take up the issue at its next meeting March 18.
Last year’s regulations included a ban on trucks operating within 100 feet of the outer walls of any restaurant with an open kitchen.
“I would hate to see them go backtracking because then they’re making changes to a statute to benefit one individual taxpayer,” said Mitchell M. Stenger, attorney for the Western New York Food Truck Association.
He was referring to Frank Berrafato, owner of Mississippi Mudds and Old Man River, two restaurants on Niagara Street across from Niawanda Park along the Niagara River, who spoke out against food trucks at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting but did not return calls to comment.
Food truck regulations in Amherst and Buffalo specify a 100-foot radius, Stenger said. He also objected to $25 fees for background checks for each food truck employee when their owners would already be required to undergo one. “It should be enough to just do background checks on the owners,” Stenger said.
Trucks would also be banned from the park’s Kohler Street entrance where boat launches are located, Davis said. That entrance is also directly across from Mississippi Mudds.
“That is the most congested portion of the park, and I think the last thing we wanted to see was more congestion,” Davis said.
Davis said he hoped the two types of businesses would be mutually beneficial.
“Hopefully the people that follow the food trucks and come down to Niawanda Park will also frequent some of the business establishments here in the City of Tonawanda as well,” he said.