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New panel to advise city on food trucks; Restaurant owners, mobile vendors will serve on committee with Buffalo officials

A new committee that includes owners of food trucks and owners of traditional restaurants will have a month to make recommendations to city lawmakers about regulations for mobile food vending.

That next step was announced Thursday during a public meeting in City Hall where food trucks got strong support from a variety of speakers.

About 50 people attended the 90-minute session in Council Chambers, where North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. announced plans to form a committee with three representatives on each side of the issue, plus three city officials.

The committee will be tasked with recommending how to regulate mobile vendors and reporting back to the Common Council in 30 days.

Peter V. Cimino, co-owner of Lloyd the taco truck, told lawmakers about the support his business has received since starting 14 months ago, as well as the four food trucks that have opened since.

"These startups see something that the people of Buffalo want," Cimino said.

Buffalo architect Steven J. Carmina, who owns a building on Main and Mohawk streets next to a regular food truck vending spot, 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.

An attorney representing five food-truck businesses also said they have formed a group called the Western New York Food Truck Association.

A lawyer for a group of brick-and-mortar restaurants, known as Entrepreneurs for a Better Buffalo, was the only representative from that organization who commented during the meeting. Attorney Michael H. Kooshian read a brief statement on behalf of the organization calling for "fair legislation." He said the group is willing to participate in the new committee.

Kooshian said the existing draft legislation on food trucks "provides more questions than answers."

He declined to provide a list of the group's members.

Golombek suggested that the committee recommend a sunset provision, possibly for the end of next summer, for whatever law is passed so that the situation can be reviewed in case there are problems.

Golombek also said he expects the committee members to be named in the next several days.

The public portion of Thursday's meeting started with a statement by Mitchell M. Stenger, attorney for the food truck association, then statements by the operators of Lloyd the taco truck, Roaming Buffalo, R&R BBQ, the Whole Hog and Rolling Joe Cafe.

After about 50 minutes, Kooshian spoke for the traditional restaurants, but no members of the organization volunteered to speak.

About 15 members of the public also spoke, including Merge restaurant co-owner Sarah Schneider, who expressed her support for food trucks in the city.

John Fusco, owner of Zetti's Pizza & Pasta and apparently not a part of Entrepreneurs for a Better Buffalo, told lawmakers he doesn't believe the proposed 100-foot buffer around brick-and-mortar restaurants is enough.

He also noted that his business has to invest in things, like restrooms, which are not required of food trucks.

"A hundred feet's not even the width of this building," Fusco said. "Not for nothing, if you put a truck there and my door's over there, you're going to tell me you're not trying to take my customers?"

Alexis Andrzejak, an unemployed teacher from Grand Island, told lawmakers she has done all the planning to start her own food-truck business. All she's waiting for is the ability to get a city permit.

"All I'm asking for is for you to pass some fair legislation so I can get that going," she said.

Absent from the meeting was Buffalo developer Carl P. Paladino, who last week, along with other downtown property owners, called for tight regulations for food trucks in the city.

The existing city code does not address mobile food vending.

Proposed regulations were before city lawmakers in July but were put on hold. During the Council's August recess, representatives of Just Pizza and Elmwood Taco & Subs met individually with lawmakers to discuss the issue.

Earlier this month, the city Inspections Department issued recommendations for what it believed should be included in a food-truck law. Those included preapproved vending sites, similar to taxi stands; specified days and hours of operation; and signs posted at vending sites to allow for "clear and precise" enforcement.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com