PITTSFIELD -- A proposal to regulate food trucks is back to the drawing board after a public hearing.
During a City Council Ordinance and Rules Committee hearing, a dozen downtown business owners and parishioners of St. Joseph's Church objected to some or all of the ordinance's provisions. A food truck owner also provided input and was supported by subsequent speakers.
Pamela Tobin, executive director of Downtown Pittsfield, proposed regulations in July after several merchants told her food trucks were unfairly competing with "brick and mortar" restaurants. She said those complaints focused on the fact restaurants, unlike food trucks, pay taxes and other overhead costs and the parking spaces the trucks utilize could be used by potential customers.
City Planner C.J. Hoss later drew up a proposal after researching regulations used in other communities. It specified areas of the downtown where food trucks may operate and specifies set-back restrictions and payments for use of parking spaces.
"There is just not enough business downtown for all of us to go around," said Brenda Torchio of Brenda & Co., whose comments were echoed by several others in the restaurant business. She said the owners of the established restaurants are more "fully involved in revitalizing Pittsfield" and are struggling through a weak economy.
"I'm very concerned about this proposal," said Mark Martin, who owns five restaurants in the city including the Subway restaurant on South Street.
"I don't want them anywhere in the city, zero, none," he said.
Susan Gordon, owner of Bagels Too, said that in addition to the competition from businesses that don't pay taxes and shoulder the same overhead costs, parking space in city lots and on streets should cost more than the proposed $35 per month fee for a food truck to park.
Attorney Mark Brennan and others said they fear disruption of St. Joseph Church services, special fundraising events, as well as funerals and weddings, if food trucks are allowed to park in front of the church.
"There has to be some respect for the sanctity of these services," said Paul Costello. He said there is a 50-foot buffer zone in the draft ordinance keeping food trucks that far away from restaurants, but none restricting them from the front of a church.
There is also the fear among parish members that the area would become littered with trash left by food truck patrons, Brennan said.
John Economou, who recently reopened the Rainbow Restaurant, said the trucks would cut into his business and could affect employment levels.
"I am against having them close to restaurants," he said, adding that sites such as the Berkshire Community College parking lots would be preferable.
He also said the proposal was vague concerning what was allowed for food trucks on private property in the downtown.
Kathy Lloyd, co-owner of How We Roll, said her food truck is the only one currently operating in Pittsfield. She said the impact on other businesses has been minimal. Her truck, she said, averages roughly two days a week in the downtown and takes in about $100 on average -- the highest daily take being $250.
"If we are putting people out of business, there is something wrong," Lloyd said.
She also strenuously objected to what she termed "protectionist" and "unconstitutional" elements of the proposed ordinance, which she said restricted her rights in a free enterprise system. The provisions limiting food trucks to certain downtown zones and not allowing them within 50 feet of a competitor business were "unconstitutional," Lloyd said.
The parking fees the city proposes also are higher than the national average for food trucks, which she said is from $300 to $500 per year.
Several other speakers supported Lloyd in her assertion she should have the right to conduct her business without undue restrictions.
Ray Parrott of A-Mart on North Street said food trucks would disrupt his deli business.
"I've tried to look at the pros and cons of this," he said. "I don't think it fits on that end of North Street."
Councilors on the committee continued to express support for a food truck ordinance but agreed it needs revision in light of the comments, especially concerning areas near the church and along South Street.
"We received a lot of good information and those are things we will take into account," said Chairwoman Melissa Mazzeo.
A study underway on downtown parking also could have a major impact, she said.