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Amherst to explore regulations for food trucks

A food fight is brewing in Amherst, and for the first time, town residents will get a chance to participate.

The fight is over food trucks, the growing transit meal businesses offering everything from tacos to salads to barbecued sandwiches, catering to busy patrons who may not want to sit down for a full meal.

While the food truck operators are urging the Amherst Town Board to follow the lead of the Buffalo Common Council by making it less cumbersome and less expensive for the traveling vendors to operate in the town, several restaurant owners have taken exception.

“Owners of the brick-and-mortar restaurants do not believe it’s a level playing field, because of their financial overhead – utilities, taxes, snowplowing, insurance, etc.,” said Shelly D. Schratz, owner of Bing’s Restaurant. “The food trucks don’t have to pay those, so the field is not level.”

Peter V. Cimino, a principal owner of Lloyd Taco Truck, is adamantly opposed to the town’s plan to restrict him and other food truck operators to one hour of service time at any given location in the town.

“We want to make them aware that, by presenting the proposition as it is, would basically bar any food truck from coming to operate in Amherst,” Cimino said. “It would not be worth our time to come out and try and sell food for an hour. And they haven’t even indicated whether or not that hour includes prep time ... or cleanup time. I mean, it’s very vague, in my opinion.”

Cimino plans to address the Town Board meeting 7 p.m. Monday, when the panel hosts a public discussion on proposals for new fees and regulations.

He and a dozen other food truck operators penned an online petition that they plan to present to the Town Board, asking that lawmakers make it easier, not more difficult, for them to do business in Amherst. The sponsors of the petition hoped to collect upward of 2,000 e-signatures from town residents and local supporters; as of Saturday evening, that goal had been met and a new goal of 3,000 set.

In addition to limiting how long food trucks can operate in one spot, the town is proposing to restrict food truck hours of operation to the hours of 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The food truck operators point out that brick-and-mortar restaurants face no similar restriction.

The trucks would also be barred from operating less than 60 feet from an intersection or 100 feet from an open restaurant, and the town would impose an annual $500 per-truck permit fee.

“I’m absolutely opposed to it. There is no precedent across the country that suggests that they should charge a fee like that, let alone any fees,” Cimino said.

The Buffalo Common Council two weeks ago decided that food truck owners who had already paid $1,000 for a permit will be charged $500 to renew it. However, a restriction that trucks cannot operate within 100 feet of an open kitchen was maintained.

Critics of the food trucks also question the need for the trucks in some parts of Amherst, especially Main Street in Williamsville. These critics, though, do concede that the trucks might make more sense in an office park, where workers on short lunch breaks don’t have easy access to multiple options.

Meanwhile, Cimino said he welcomed the input of Amherst residents and business owners at the public discussion Monday.

“I think people are unaware that this is going on. It really has not had time to seep in,” he said.

Coleen C. DiPirro, president and chief executive officer of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, said all of the feedback she has received so far has been positive, noting the popularity of the food trucks at the Centerpointe Corporate Park in the town.

“There was a line in front of the food truck waiting for lunch outside in a blizzard. This was at Centerpointe,” DiPirro said.

“People have reached out to the Amherst Chamber just by virtue of our mission to see what our position on it is, and our position is that we support the position of the majority of the residents and we support free enterprise, and we think that if it’s customer-driven we, as a municipality, should do what we can to meet the needs of customers,” she added.

Cimino said he, too, was also unaware of any organized opposition from either residents or restaurateurs in Amherst.

“If they don’t give us a fair shot now, operating in open fashion, it is doing the community a disservice,” he said.

“We can always start with open regulation and then come back and say, well, after a year, this really didn’t work. Maybe it doesn’t need to be 50 feet away from a restaurant. Maybe it needs to be over 100 feet away, but to come in with the restriction that we’re starting at is a real tough sell for us,” Cimino added.