January 21, 2014

Proposed City Policy Imposes Rules on Food Truck Expansion

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A new policy proposed by the City of Ithaca that would regulate when and where food trucks could operate has raised concern among restaurant owners and other members of the community.

The proposed policy sets a minimum distance between the location of food trucks and traditional “brick-and-mortar” restaurants, according to the draft of the policy. This distance, which was initially set at 200 feet, has been changed to 100 feet and is still apt to change as a subcommittee continues to work on the proposal.

The proposed policy also requires food truck owners to pay a permit application fee of $100 in addition to permit fees, depending on where and when the food trucks operate. According to the draft, food trucks in residential areas will not be allowed to operate beyond lunch and dinner hours and are not allowed to sell food from 2:00 to 6:00 a.m.

As the city offers new curbside locations for food trucks to park, some restaurant owners are concerned with potential competition from food trucks, which face lower overhead costs and fees.

“I have a little bit of concern in Collegetown, where [our business] has a couple of restaurants that have pretty brisk hours during which food trucks are proposed to be open,” said Frost Travis, president Travis Hyde Properties. “But I think if the minimum distance between food trucks and restaurants is maintained, it will be fair, and it will create some competition.”

While restaurants pay rent or property taxes, hire staff, and have larger start-up costs, they also have bigger kitchens and larger menus, according to J.P. Vico, owner of Circus Truck.

Although food trucks would be limited to vending one day a week at neighborhood parks, this policy does not affect food trucks on private property.

The Board of Public Works held two public hearings within the past month, where members of the public expressed differing views on the policy. The prospect of more food trucks in business has raised both excitement and worries, according to Alderperson Donna Fleming (D-3rd Ward).

“The public reaction was more mixed than I’d expected,” Fleming said. “Some restaurant owners are enthusiastic and see this as a way of generating even more interest in good food in Ithaca, while others fear that existing standing restaurants will lose business and are facing unfair competition.”

Tomas Harrington, general manager of Viva Taqueria, said he believes that food trucks and ‘brick-and-mortar’ restaurants are two different businesses not easily compared.

“It’s like apples and oranges,” Harrington said. “Someone who wants to sit down for dinner is going to go eat at a food truck and the other way around. Of course, you want to protect your business, but I think the threat to an existing restaurant is a bit overblown.”

The policy comes at a time when food trucks are increasingly popular in Ithaca, according to 14850 Magazine. “Whatever gets people downtown and whatever gets people enjoying our town is good for everyone,” Harrington said.