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Indigestion in Amherst; Town officials working to put to rest?the flap over regulating food trucks

Just as the City of Buffalo managed to do, the Town of Amherst is now working on a palatable agreement on how best to regulate food trucks.

Both town and city have found themselves at the center of a growing national phenomenon of curbside dining. Food trucks have been around in Amherst for at least a couple of years, but it wasn't until a recent flap that the subject got any attention. It's not that the folks in Amherst will starve without food trucks … that isn't the point. The town needs to accommodate diners, food trucks and existing restaurants.

As reported by Sandra Tan, Amherst has apparently been kicking food trucks out of town since late August. Why? Simply because they failed to obtain a "transient business permit."

It's doubtful those who have tasted the offerings from Lloyd Taco Truck or other vendors would categorize these food trucks as peddlers or solicitors, and definitely not junk dealers, but that is what the little-known 1993 town law aims to regulate.

The situation came to a head last Monday when a Building Department code enforcement officer showed up at Amherst Commerce Park on Ridge Lea Road and demanded Lloyd Taco Truck operations cease.

The truck owner disputed the need for a permit and the code enforcement officer called the cops. It all continued downhill from there, with the owner later saying he felt he'd been bullied.

In late August a code enforcement officer shut down the Cheesy Chick food truck, which led to the owner complaining about the existing permit requirements, which led Town Board Member Steven Sanders to draft a resolution several weeks ago asking for creation of a new food truck permit.

The current timetable calls for a proposed new permit law to come before the board sometime in November. That's nowhere near the 18 months it took Buffalo to hash out an agreement satisfactory to owners of both the trucks and the bricks-and-mortar restaurants. But the wait may seem unbearable to food truck fans and operators.

Until a new law passes, food trucks will have to abide by the town's "peddling and soliciting" law requiring a $100 fee per truck per location, with each permit good for 90 days. That's bad news for the food truck operators, because a truck that regularly visits five or six town locations would have to pay $500 or $600 every three months, far exceeding the $1,000 annual license fee in Buffalo.

Perhaps the building commissioner and police chief are on to something by taking a more lenient approach, instructing their employees not to disrupt food truck operations. If a violation is found, they will issue a court appearance ticket and allow a judge to decide the matter.

The new town law will have to provide some protections for traditional restaurants without being too burdensome on the truck operators. Hungry people in Amherst are awaiting that compromise.