During a Board of Public Works meeting on Monday, two Collegetown business owners came to voice their concerns about the inconvenience posed by food trucks in the area.

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Under current law, food trucks must set up a minimum of 200 feet away from the nearest “brick and mortar” restaurant, with the intent of keeping food trucks from impacting local restaurants too heavily. However, local restaurant owners say the rule may not be doing enough, as some businesses are still seeing negative effects.

The issue was pushed back into focus of the Board of Public Works by a request from one food truck owner, Woepa Zegid, who runs the “That’s How I Roll” sushi food truck. Zegid was requesting an exemption from the 200-foot rule, which would need to be approved by the owner of the Nines, the nearest restaurant to Zegid’s usual location.

In a written response, the owner of the Nines, Mark Kielmann, denied the request, suggesting that if the board were to give him a break on taxes and give him two additional parking spaces for his customers, he would reconsider. As the board grumbled at the audacity of the request, Board administrator Kathy Gehring made clear, “That’s not going to happen.”

Accountability for food trucks

The first to speak on the issue was Gregar Brous, who owns several local Ithaca restaurants, including Collegetown Bagels. Brous expressed several concerns about the way that food trucks are regulated. “To me there’s a real question of accountability, who is it that actually goes up to the food truck and collects the sales tax? Who is it that understands whether or not the people in the trucks get paid cash or if they have payroll taxes associated with them?”

Brous stressed how strict the regulations were for restaurants like his, by comparison. Nathan Lyman, representing Ithaca Renting, echoed those concerns. He mentioned that one of the company’s renters, Sangham Indian Restaurant, was reporting a 30% drop in revenue thanks in part to the burgeoning popularity of food trucks in Collegetown.

Lyman said a petition has been been signed by many Eddy St. businesses, complaining that food truck owners were “getting all benefits without the burden – the burden being real property taxes.” “What you are doing is creating a situation that is a disincentive to property owners,” Lyman said.

Brous and Lyman also mentioned that food trucks often seem to be breaking the established rules. One of the rules for food trucks in Collegetown limits their hours to after 10pm, but Lyman said he’d heard reports of trucks opening for business at 9pm or even earlier.

Woepa Zegid, owner of the “That’s How I Roll” food truck.
Woepa Zegid, owner of the “That’s How I Roll” food truck.

Owners: Trucks inconvenience patrons

Brous also explained some additional inconveniences caused by the trucks. He said that the way the trucks are situated often forces patrons out into the streets, which could create a traffic hazard. Another frustration he shared: “The parking spaces [food trucks] take up are public parking spaces. People that are dining in establishments across the street… people are asked to get up from their dinner table and asked to go up and move their cars.”

Under the current rules, the ability to grant an exemption to the 200-foot rule is the decision of the businesses owners who would be affected. The board saw no reason to change that policy. Board commissioner Jonathan Greene noted that food trucks were a growing trend in Ithaca and in other cities, and suggested “we may need to look at this again in the future.”

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.