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Hearing: Buffalo food truck to help open new restaurant

A striking point about food trucks was offered at yesterday's City Hall hearing by Buffalo architect Steven J. Carmina, who owns a building on Main and Mohawk streets next to Lloyd's usual vending spot.

In this case, a food truck helped create the conditions that could allow a new restaurant to open, Carmina said. That's right: Buffalo's downtown restaurant population might increase because of a food truck. Rather far from the depiction of food trucks as roving restaurant assassins lurking to pick off the weakest of the brick-and-mortar herd.

In Aaron Besecker's Buffalo News story detailing the hearing, "[Carmina] said he believes the foot traffic caused by the truck helped him finally find a restaurant to lease space on the first floor of his building after a decade of searching for one. "I'm very happy to come here in support of this food truck establishment," Carmina said."

Sounds like the great Buffalo food truck debate could use a broader perspective. Perhaps the question of how far the city should go to accommodate this form of small business should take into account the broader impacts of the food trucks, and not just focus on how much their range should be limited. 

The bottom line from Thursday's City Hall hearing on proposed food truck regulations: the city wants to see if the restaurants and food trucks can settle this themselves.

(Watch video clips of testimony from truck owners and opponents here.)

Specifically, a committee including restaurant industry and food truck representatives will try to agree on details that so far have been flashpoints of conflict. It has 30 days to report back to the council.

Here's the sort of questions they face:
How close can food trucks operate to existing restaurants?
Where will they be allowed to operate?
Should food truck hours be restricted?
What other restrictions or requirements are deemed necessary?

Alan Bedenko, who has been watching the process closely, shares his thoughts here. He puts in a good word for the term "regulation."

Regulating food trucks with time, place, and manner restrictions is a massive improvement over the status quo, whereby the trucks are prohibited from working the streets and setting up just about anywhere except on private property, or in locations for which they have a permit.

He puts a finger on why the food truck debate has riled so many people: the city already has a reputation of being unfriendly to small businesses trying to get off the ground.

"There’s loads of reasons why Buffalo’s downtown business district is a bleak shell even between 9 – 5 on a weekday," Bedenko writes.  "Further restrictions on mobile businesses will only help to perpetuate that – ease them and perhaps it’ll change."

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