By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BAY RIDGE — A loophole in the city regulation of sidewalk food carts is wide enough to drive a truck through, according to Community Board 10’s leader, who said local streets are becoming cluttered with outdoor “restaurants” as a result.
Board Chair Joanne Seminara said the board is concerned about the large, truck-sized food vendors who have become a common sight on local shopping streets, including the corner of 86th Street and Fifth Avenue.
“The issue is the loophole available to mobile food carts, which, unlike the hot dog vendor of yesteryear, are really stationary sidewalk restaurants with no liability or responsibility for garbage removal, street cleaning and the like,” Seminara said.
The food vendors are becoming quasi-restaurants with detailed menu options, Seminara said. But the vendors also bring something else with them besides steak sandwiches and sodas — litter, she said.
Adding to the problem is the fact that the food vendors don’t pay the same level of taxes as regular restaurants do.
Restaurant owners charge that the food carts are taking business away from them.
Tensions between food cart owners and owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants are rising. Last week, the owner of one Fifth Avenue restaurant got into a shouting match with a food vendor, according to witnesses who said the two men had to be pulled apart.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge) said he sympathizes with restaurant owners.
“I hear what they’re going through with city agencies trying to wring them dry with fines and they are not happy, then a food cart pulls up outside their store and competes for their business,” he said. “How can a brick-and-mortar business owner, who is already paying a premium to rent a storefront on a main strip while covering business and property taxes, water bills, and private sanitation, compete with a ‘here today-gone tomorrow’ food cart?”
The tax structure is particularly unfair to the property owners within the community who are part of the community’s two business improvement districts (BIDs) and who pay a higher rate of real estate taxes to the city, Seminara said.
There are two business improvement districts in the community — the Bay Ridge 86th Street BID and the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue BID.
Under the city’s BID regulations, property owners in a specific commercial zone pay an added assessment on their city real estate taxes. The additional monies are used to fund supplemental sanitation services, private security patrols, holiday lighting and other amenities for the shopping area.
“One of the perks of our BIDs is that they are vendor-free zones,” Seminara said.
But food vendors are exempt from the ban, she added.
“We need a citywide task force to reconvene to discuss and develop regulations on this topic. Our brick-and-mortar businesses deserve a more measured level of fairness,” Seminara said.
Gentile called on the city’s Department of Small Business Services to convene a review panel to look into the issue of sidewalk food carts.
One Bay Ridge food vendor defended himself and his colleagues on the street.
“I’m not here to hurt anybody. I’m trying to make a living. People buy food from us because they like our food,” said the vendor, who asked that his name not be used.