Albany seeking feedback on food truck rules

Albany wants to make food trucks “an integrated, celebrated part of city life,” but needs to keep in

How do you balance the interests of mobile food vendors and established restaurants?

Two decades ago, downtown Albany saw a lot of verbal sparring between food sellers who parked around the Capitol when the weather was warm and local restaurateurs who wanted to keep their lunchtimes busy.

The latter, making their case as property taxpayers, had the ear of City Hall, which kept the sellers in check via fees and permits.

Years passed and a new administration came to City Hall, one seemingly more attuned to the growing popularity of food trucks and their quick, cheap and often hip fare.

Last year, the city inaugurated a two-year pilot to test the appetite for food trucks in commercial areas away from the Capitol, as well as at two city parks. The program saw limited success in its shortened, three-month first season; this year’s season kicks off May 1 and will last six months, through Halloween.

The city currently is seeking feedback on Year 1 before it sets the parameters for Year 2, which it expects to do by April 15.

Earlier this week, officials held a meeting in City Hall to hear about what worked and what didn’t last year, and what vendors and others want to see this year. Several dozen people attended.

None groused about the program’s regulations, which are plenty: A vendor’s hours of operation and the type of food to be served have to be approved by the city, and food trucks must stay away from many of the streets around the Capitol filled with government and office workers.

Also, if a food truck wants to operate within one of the city’s three Business Improvement Districts, it must get a letter of support from the BID. And another letter is required if the truck plans to be within 150 feet of an existing food establishment.

Such rules are commonplace but still decried by the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm in suburban Washington, D.C., that litigates nationwide on behalf of food trucks fighting onerous local laws.

Its advice to communities contemplating food truck regulations? Focus on health and safety rules, then get out of the way and let the marketplace operate.

During the City Hall session, city planner Kate Lawrence took suggestions about allowing food trucks in industrial areas, like the Port of Albany, and being more flexible on hours. One vendor said to nodding heads that he didn’t care about serving lunches but wanted to be able to sell food to the bar crowd from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Lawrence told me later that Albany is “trying to figure out the balance” between regulation and fostering small-business opportunities for vendors.

It wants to make food trucks “an integrated, celebrated part of city life,” but needs to keep in mind established restaurants, to make sure they “don’t feel threatened.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]..

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