A proposal would have allowed food trucks to operate on underused property outside the downtown, including the vacant gas station at Riverside and Bridge avenues. (Photo by Trish Russoniello. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
A push to end Red Bank’s ban on food trucks ran out of gas Wednesday night.
Over the objections of one of their colleagues, council members sided with owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants, who say trucks would unfairly undermine them while rewarding other property owners for neglect.
In June, Borough Business Administrator Ziad Shehady floated the idea of allowing food trucks to operate on private property, “with restrictions, obviously.”
“There are a lot of food trucks that are interested in coming to Red Bank, and doing business in Red Bank, but they have no mechanism by which they can do that,” he said at the time.
Shehady’s suggestion was to change zoning laws to allow trucks to operate outside the central business district on underutilized sites where projects are stalled or in bankruptcy, such as the vacant gas station at Bridge and Riverside avenues.
The idea had the support of Councilwoman Kate Triggiano and Councilman Michael Ballard, who said he was “all for it, as long as they clean up the property.”
But Shehady had not yet discussed the idea with Red Bank RiverCenter, the administrator of the borough’s special improvement district, he said at the time. And in the intervening weeks, when the established businesses were polled on the idea, they reiterated their past opposition.
“It was presented to the entire board at RiverCenter, and they were pretty unanimously opposed to it,” said Councilman Ed Zipprich. “With 30 to 40 people around the table, there wasn’t one that supported the notion.”
Councilman Hazim Yassin said he had spoken to members of RiverCenter and the Red Bank Business Alliance, and “I don’t think I’ve talked to a single person who was was OK with this.”
Ballard said that if the trucks were to be allowed, it should only be on public property, “for a food truck weekend, or something like that.”
Allowing owners of vacant sites to profit by renting space to trucks “would basically be rewarding them for not doing what they’re supposed to do,” Yassin said.
Triggiano, though, argued that trucks would “bring economic vitality” to the town.
“I think that when you look at the economics of it, the pie gets bigger, it’s not taking somebody else’s pie,” she said, adding that she was never in favor of allowing the trucks on disused sites, but rather at special events.
RiverCenter executive director Jim Scavone told the council he had conducted separate surveys of the restaurant and non-restaurant communities, and found strong opposition in both.
“We are OK with a one-day event or a weekend event,” he said. “We allow food trucks at some of our own events, such as the Oyster Festival, those sorts of things.”
But “the organization is opposed to allowing food trucks on a regular basis, whether it be private property or public property,” he said. “The business community was very clear about that.”
On what rationale?, asked Triggiano.
“People who own food trucks are not invested in the town,” Scavone said. “The businesses, and especially the restaurants, feel they invest a lot in this community.”
“I think it does have the potential to affect the businesses that have invested a lot in the town in a negative way,” he said.
Mayor Pasquale Menna, recalling a failed 2011 push for a single spot for a food truck to operate, said it appeared there was a consensus on the issue, and that it was again time to “put it to bed.”