How to handle food trucks is still stumping Amherst city council after a year of moratoriums on mobile vendors.
The hot topic has been the focus of May 21 and June 4 meetings as officials debate permits, fees, and whether food trucks should be regulated on private property.
Councilman Chuck Winiarski, who chairs the ordinance committee, is in favor of food vendors but not necessarily for the city’s historical downtown commercial area.
He suggested mandating that food trucks can only operate on private property if they have the owner’s permission and the property has zoning that allows eating establishments.
Winiarski questioned whether food trucks operate on a level playing field with brick-and-mortar restaurants.
To “roll in and poach customers” from local businesses is unfair, he said.
Mayor Mark Costilow has also argued food trucks don’t play by the same rules as established restaurants. For example, if stationary restaurants want to change the color of a door or put in windows, owners have to go to design review board, he said.
He said it’s unfair that a mobile vendor can set up “a carnival style tent with banners and streamers and big pink elephants all over it” that doesn’t fit into the downtown atmosphere.
The design review board and its accompanying regulations were created to preserve the distinctive historic characteristics of structures downtown.
Councilman Joe Miller wants to promote downtown as an investment area and would like to see vendors on private property only.
“I don’t want them on public property at all unless there’s an event,” he said. “If you want to open a business on your private property, you have to go through the zoning board of appeals because you’re now going to be selling merchandise for service.”
All food trucks should register with the city, Miller said, just as all solicitors are registered and fingerprinted.
Miller said it’s reasonable to know when companies are doing business in Amherst but Costilow said he doesn’t want to become mired in regulating what residents are doing in their own backyards.
The city already requires permits for many commercial activities on private property, Miller said — for what they can build outside their homes, how they’re running wiring, or how they’re installing gas furnaces.
Councilman Ed Cowger offered similar thoughts, saying food truck operators should be held to the same standard as roofers who do business in Amherst but don’t have a brick-and-mortar presence here.
Law director Tony Pecora cautioned against regulating food preparation on private property because it could impact church barbecues or other nonprofit events.
Council passed a moratorium last summer against food truck operations in almost all public spaces and renewed it again this winter, saying officials needed time to examine the issue.
Now that freeze has expired.
The moratorium prohibited food trucks from parking on public property within 15 feet of any building or parked vehicle, in fire lanes, or from using combustible fuel.
It also required vendors to have fire extinguishers and carry up to $1 million worth of insurance.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611, email@example.com, or @HamameNews on Twitter. Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @EditorHawk on Twitter.