Food truck rules to be debated at council committee meeting
PITTSFIELD -- Food trucks vs. "brick and mortar" restaurants -- it's a conflict simmering across the country as the mobile eateries surge in popularity. On Monday, those issues of competition and fairness will go before the City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee.
A petition by Pamela Tobin, executive director of Downtown Inc., asks the City Council to create an ordinance regulating food trucks in light of complaints of unfair competition from downtown merchants. The committee will review the petition at 7:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall.
Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, chairwoman of the committee, said on Tuesday that the first step should be "to find out where we want to go with this" rather than immediately draw up an ordinance.
"I think we have to start this conversation," she said.
Mazzeo said she's attempting to notify all interested parties of the meeting, including food truck vendors and downtown business owners.
The downtown business owners, Tobin said, have complained that "brick and mortar" businesses see unfair competition from the mobile trucks, especially when they are parked near their businesses.
During a July 10 council meeting, Susan Gordon, owner of Bagels Too on North Street, said she finds it "disheartening to find a food truck outside your door."
The overhead and taxes a downtown merchant must shoulder, Gordon said, gives the trucks an unfair advantage and cuts into the profits of stationary businesses.
"I think we have to come to some sort of accord," said Kathy Lloyd, who owns the How We Roll food truck with her husband, Gabe. Kathy Lloyd said they've made a point of trying not to interfere with North Street merchants when parking their truck -- actually a construction-size metal trailer -- for business. Coincidentally, How We Roll has garnered national attention lately as it competes in a food truck competition on the "Live with Kelly and Michael" morning television show.
Gabe Lloyd said on Tuesday that normal weekday hours have been from about 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Pittsfield. The truck typically visits parking areas or lots off East Street near Pittsfield High School and on Wahconah Street near Berkshire Medical Center, he said.
On weekends, How We Roll is usually set up at farmers markets, festivals and similar sites.
"We have talked about being on North Street," Kathy Lloyd said, "but we want to work with the city to make sure we make something that is fair. Banning trucks from the downtown would be unfair."
Jan Seward, who owns the Amanda's Kitchen food truck with Michael Seward, said they have given up for the time being trying to operate in downtown Pittsfield. Jan Seward said that is "based on the response of some of the merchants," but they would reconsider if a fair compromise can be worked out.
Seward cited "the ill will and the vitriol" of some merchants -- not just restaurant owners -- when the truck has parked in the area. "The smear campaign and the nastiness were uncalled for," she said. "We have been cooperative."
She said the vehicle has been parked in areas designated in permits from the city.
Mazzeo said City Planner C.J. Hoss and Corrinn Shogry, senior sanitarian with the Health Department, have provided detailed information about food truck ordinances in use in other cities and about health regulations that should be required.
Seward said many Berkshire towns do not allow food vendors. Great Barrington began considering an ordinance this year but tabled it for possible action at the 2014 town meeting.
"Personally, I like them," Mazzeo said of the food trucks. "They bring a freshness to the city. But I also understand the concerns of the restaurants. I think there can be a compromise we can all agree to."
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