Providence food truck amendment clears ordinance panel

Updated at 3:09 p.m.

CITY OFFICIALS ARE MULLING an change that would require food truck operators to receive written permission from property owners within 50 feet of where they are vending. / PBN PHOTO/ELI SHERMAN

PROVIDENCE – The ordinance committee on Thursday unanimously approved an amendment to city regulations that if passed would require food truck owners to secure written permission from any commercial or residential property owner the mobile vendor “is located in front of while vending within the public right of way.”

The measure now goes to the full City Council.

The proof of permission would need to be submitted to the Board of Licenses for verification and “to any authority questioning the vending location,” according to the draft ordinance.

The original draft only applied to restaurants but was expanded to include all commercial and residential properties.

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Committee chairman Pedro Espinal said during the meeting he has fielded numerous complaints from restaurant owners upset that food trucks have parked in front of their businesses.

I believe this will start good “working relationships,” he said.

Individual conflicts between business owners and food truck operators alleged to be violating current regulations are usually handled through the city’s licensing department.

“It will protect the restaurants and [with the expansion] everybody else will be protected as well,” he said.

Co-sponsor John Goncalves  said the provision “hits the nail on the head.”

“I think it’s a slam dunk,” he said.

Currently, food trucks and other mobile food vendors are not allowed to set up within 300 feet of an entertainment venue or within the public right-of-way within 200 feet “of the front door of any restaurant or institutional dining service while such facilities are open for business,” unless the mobile vendor receives written permission.

Tiffany Ting, co-owner of Hometown Cafe and Poke Bar, which also operates a food truck in the city, opposes the change.

“That would be very prohibitive,” she said. “There are already regulations around where food trucks can go. This is kicking it up a notch. These are extra-small businesses. And this makes it even harder for them to operate.”

Ting said the change could also have unintended consequences.

“You could have people that just don’t like a particular food truck. Or someone that has a competing food truck,” she said. “It just adds another unnecessary layer.”

Ting added there is also the inconvenience of having to get permission from a property owner in an industry by definition that relies on being mobile.

“We”ve had plenty of days where we are driving around looking for place to park,” she said. “And food is perishable.”

But Ting said she understands both sides of the long-standing debate between traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants and mobile establishments.

“Restaurants have a lot of overhead,” she said. “Those bills are much higher than a food truck. If you make that investment, you don’t want one cutting into your business.”

Eric Weiner, CEO of the national food truck networking website Foodtrucksin.com and founder of local event planning organization PVD Food Truck Events, said the provision could hamper local operators’ bottom line.

“If local food trucks are required to get written permission from other business owners or landowners before being permitted to make a living it will drastically change the food truck scene in Providence and put small business owners out of business,” he said. “Imagine the city of Providence requiring McDonalds to have to get permission from Dollar Tree before opening next door. “

(UPDATE: Corrects wording of ordinance to “is located in front of while vending within the public right of way” in 1st sentence.)

(Update: Adds comment from Weiner in 20th and 21st paragraphs)

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at Allen@PBN.com

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