City Council chambers were packed Monday night for a hearing on food trucks.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City officials invited a broad swath of the downtown community to comment on an evolving ordinance to regulate food trucks
in the "Upstreet" district, and comment they did.
Just under 20 residents and business owners spoke up at a public hearing on Monday before the City Council's Ordinance and Rules subcommittee, expressing a widening divide of opinions in the local culinary community on if and where mobile eateries should be allowed to operate in the future an issue restaurateurs both for and against the newly emerging competitors have been watching with increasing interest.
Several downtown proprietors opposed the new ordinance for allowing food trucks to get parking permits at all in downtown, while supporters complained the proposed regulation is unfairly restrictive to a new type of business.
"Businesses have been feeling the impact that food trucks have had on their sales by being parked in front of their businesses, and the impact of parking spaces which have been taken from the customers," said Downtown Pittsfield Inc Executive Director Pamela Tobin, who brought forth a petition against them in July
following some complaints from North Street eateries.
There were differences of opinion in the process of drafting
an ordinance in August, and continued concerns from parties on both sides in October prompted the committee to call for more input
from downtown merchants and other potentially interested parties.
City Planner C.J. Hoss said in addition to other publicity, the city mailed 100 invitations to properties within a 200-foot radius of the proposed "zones"
in which the trucks would be allowed to operate under the current draft map, and an email "to anyone with any downtown connection," along with circulating word through Downtown Inc.
The hearing was also unique in having a Facebook event invite
, created by How We Roll food truck proprietor Kathy Lloyd, complete with an offer for discounted egg rolls that were served outside City Hall for an hour prior to the meeting.
"There's just not enough downtown business for all of us to go around," said Brenda Torchi of Brenda and Co., who told the committee that this new competition would hurt existing businesses, and suggested the city needs to show respect for permanent year-round restaurants.
"Why should people who've invested so long get the rug pulled out," agreed Liberty Pizza manager Tina Jones, voicing concerns about food truck parking interfering with their delivery business.
Highland Restaurant's Pasquale Arace said he was "totally, adamantly against food trucks and vendors anywhere in the city of Pittsfield."
Several parishioners of St. Joseph's Church, whose frontage occupies a majority of the most prominent area of the proposed food truck parking zones, expressed concerns about impact to church business and events.
"I feel it's a lose-lose situation for the vendors and the church," said John Arasimowicz.
Lloyd, whose How We Roll truck has been the only one in regular operation beyond those of special-event vendors, complained that some parts of the ordinance unfairly discriminate against businesses like hers on the basis of other businesses opposing the competition.
"Equal protection is a right," Lloyd told the councilors. "It is not the role of government to choose winners and losers. That's the job of the free market."
However, Lloyd added, at the level of the $250 her truck might take in on peak days, she does not believe the current situation is truly a threat to any existing businesses.
"It's not cannibalism, but capitalism," added local chef James Burden, who extolled the extra vitality that food trucks could bring to downtown. "I think we need to revisit this proposal. I don't think you should vote on this tonight, I would hope that you'd amend it in certain ways to be slightly more accommodating to food trucks."
"I feel like it's slightly unconstitutional, and it slightly sounds of bigotry," said Paul Dodds of those desiring to ban food trucks altogether. "There's always going to be a problem with this, because there's a not-in-my-backyard mentality."
In addition to those present, many other individuals had weighed in to city councilors leading up to this week's meeting.
"I think I've received more emails on this matter in the last week than I have on any item in many many years," said Councilor Jonathan Lothrop.
This included a letter to the council from the Institute for Justice, a national civil rights firm, urging the city to amend items of the ordinance it said may be unconstitutional. Specifically, the firm opposed restricting the operating area of food trucks and establishing 50-foot setbacks from any non-consenting existing restaurant, saying "proximity restrictions that are based on the location of existing businesses are unconstitutional ... as they are based on protectionism rather than on protecting the public's health and safety."
City Planner C.J. Hoss said the proposed distance restrictions were not added because of the issue of competition, but based on limited parking availability in many areas.
"I think this is a good first step of the conversation," said Lothrop, "I don't support moving this forward until we've had a chance to really digest a little bit further."
The committee will continue to develop the ordinance to amend the Chapter 9 of the city code with respect to mobile food establishments under a new council next year.
Letter from The Institute for Justice on proposed food truck regulation in Pittsfield, Mass. by Joe Durwin