Oregon seeks compromise with food truck vendors

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Oregon plans a public meeting soon to address concerns by food truck vendors that they are not free to locate where they want in the city unless it’s at a special event.
        Oregon Mayor Mike Seferian said at a council meeting on Monday that the city does not have rules governing food trucks. Usually, the city looks the other way when a food truck sets up business at some locations. Only when someone complains – usually brick and mortar restaurant owners-were food trucks forced to leave.
        “We have never had an ordinance for food trucks in the city of Oregon,” said Seferian. “However, we worked on a complaint basis. To draw up legislation to initially accomplish what you want to do is very difficult because there are some unwanted consequences. You prohibit things that weren’t the real intent of the legislation to begin with. So we went along with this policy.”
        Seferian said the city will always side with a restaurant owner over a food truck vendor because restaurants invest millions into the business while food truck operators invest at a fraction by comparison.
        Seferian also said food trucks are not permitted in the Navarre business corridor, between I-280 to Coy Road, due to the city’s efforts to attract developers of a planned town center in that area.
        “Attracting restaurants is a very difficult thing,” said Seferian. “It’s one of the harder businesses to survive in any community. There’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of things restaurants have to go through to survive.  Politicians do not bring in dining establishments. The market does. So the market has to be ideal for restaurants to survive. There’s such a fine line between surviving and not surviving in the restaurant field that it is very difficult to attract them.”
Stakeholders meeting
        Two years ago, at a stakeholders meeting for businesses owners mostly located along Navarre Avenue, Seferian mentioned that food trucks were getting by in Oregon.
        “But I believed there would be a day when they would be prohibited or prohibited under certain terms,” he said.
        Among the first food truck to get forced out was a vendor that sold barbecue chicken, he said. The vendor went across the street from DEETS barbecue, which lodged a complaint with the city.
        “Since he had filed a complaint, we had no other choice than to follow up on the complaint, which is what we are required to do. So we were forced to make that person leave because we had no provision for them to stay,” said Seferian.
        Another example, he said, was a food vendor who had approached the city with plans to sell ice cream. He was going to invest $35,000 and locate in the Pat Catan’s parking lot on Navarre Avenue next to the former Wendy’s fast food restaurant, which bought for about $1 million by someone with plans to upgrade the building with an additional $1.8 million and bring in Dairy Queen.
        He’s pushing a $3 million investment while the food vendor was going to put in his food truck to compete next door to him. There’s no one in this room who can say that is fair. I know both of the owners reasonably well.” The food truck vendor understood after Seferian explained it to him.
Town center
        City Administrator Mike Beazley put together a policy that prohibited food trucks, especially in the business district on Navarre, except when there was a special event in the city, said Seferian.
        “We believed we could support it. But being there were some questions asked, we decided to allow everything to go on as usual because we wanted to create actual legislation to describe precisely what we wanted to do. One of the things we’re facing now is the development of a town center in the city, at a cost of between $50 million and $80 million. We are closely talking to a couple of developers, one of whom is very interested. When a developer is looking at putting something like that in, they want to attract a lot of businesses, an entertainment district, restaurants and night club, which we and the developer believe are essential to making a town center work. One of the things that is very important to the developer is to prohibit any food trucks around the Navarre Avenue corridor, including where the new area will develop. Or they will not come,” said Seferian. “We are very close to making that happen. Just that fine line of the food trucks being permitted in that area is enough to kill that deal. It is that close, that fine of a line of survival for those businesses. I’m not saying the legislation we choose to create as an administration will totally prohibit. We like food trucks. We like the special events. We want special events to work and be successful. We also want fine dining establishments and a town center. If we had to choose, we would take the town center before the food trucks. We believe we could come up to a solution to allow both.”
        Seferian said he hoped council adopts a policy soon that addresses food trucks.
        The town center is very important to us. We have a lot riding on it. Millions of dollars in city money at this time. We want it to be successful. We want food trucks to be successful. We want a permitting process for special events and maybe for business and industrial areas. And if they can create a spot in some industrial site away from our commercial business corridor, that would be fine. But other than that, I would be totally against it. I would think everyone on council would be against it. We have too much riding on it.  And we couldn’t do that to the businesses that did take their investments to the City of Oregon. We really do have to think of them. We will think of them first. Their investment is much larger. Every day, they have to pay their overhead, which I’m told is enormous.”
        Local businessman P.J. Kapfhammer criticized the city for allowing food trucks only at special events.
        “I just don’t know how you get to define what a special event is and get to pull the food trucks when you want them because it serves your purpose but then you eliminate for everyone else,” said Kapfhammer.
        He also questioned the city’s desire to protect brick and mortar restaurants due to their larger investments compared to food trucks. 
        “Toledo has a lot more invested in their downtown buildings than our people do. Even Toledo allows food trucks twice per week. They even promote it,” said Kapfhammer.
        Mike Lopinski, owner of Lake Erie Barbecue, said the brick and mortar businesses should not feel threatened by his food truck.
        “If my food truck is hurting your business four days per month, and I’m set up at a location more than 100 feet away, you need to take a good look at the quality of food and service in your establishment,” he said. “The fact that business owners would prefer not to face competition is not a valid regulatory purpose of government.”
        Council President Dennis Walendzak said he asked Building and Zoning Commissioner James Gilmore to get information on legislation regarding food trucks from surrounding communities.
        “I want to see how they have developed policies on food trucks. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The legislation is already out there. Let’s review it and see how we can mold it to the city of Oregon. In the near future, we would like to hold a meeting with the Economic Development Committee. At this time, we are not taking any action because council would like to review legislation throughout Northwest Ohio and other communities to see how they have reacted to this. As of now, we’re going to be in a holding pattern and operate as is - at least until council can review legislation and see how we can craft something that fits and works for everyone,” said Walendzak.


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