Friday, February 17, 2012

Roosevelt Island Mobile Food Truck Killing Plan Proposed By RIOC Staff - Resident RIOC Directors Push Back and Get Location Near Subway For Mobile Food Truck - I Think?

Image of Mexicue Food Van At Battery Park City From DNA Info

As reported earlier this week, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Board of Directors Real Estate Committee scheduled a meeting for yesterday to discuss, among other issues, Mobile Food Truck vendors operating on Roosevelt Island (audio web cast of the meeting is here).

After 2 months of study and deliberation, the RIOC staff presented their proposal yesterday for allowing Mobile Food Trucks to serve the starving, restaurant deprived population of Roosevelt Island. The result? As Roosevelt Island resident and RIOC Director Margie Smith commented during the meeting:
I think you are going to kill the whole thing if you start doing this ... If we don't want vendors, this is the way to do it...
What was the Mobile Food Truck Killing Plan proposed by RIOC staff? The RIOC staff proposed allowing Mobile Food Trucks or street vendors to operate in six locations - but incredibly, not on the West Channel Road by the F Train subway station used by several thousand Roosevelt Island residents

on their way home from work or school in the evenings and the location where Luke's Lobster Rolls Mobile Food Truck was kicked off by Public Safety last December opposite the Starbucks which started this brouhaha.

The six locations proposed for mobile food trucks or street vendors are:
Lighthouse Park
Octagon Soccer Field
Existing Farmers Market
Existing Fruit Stand Market on Sidewalk by Subway and Duane Reade

At The Tram Station where the Mr. Softee Ice Cream Truck was this summer

and Southpoint Park.

The RIOC staff also proposed mandating that New York City licensed Mobile Food Trucks obtain a monthly permit from RIOC as well as pay a $350 monthly fee in order to serve the Roosevelt Island population. Mobile Food Trucks do not need to obtain permits other than NYC License to operate in any other NYC neighborhood nor do they have to pay any additional fee.

After much prodding and insisting from the resident RIOC Directors, I think, though am not sure, the RIOC staff agreed to add a location for Mobile Food Trucks near the subway if the space complies with NYC regulations.

Here's what happened at the meeting.

You Tube Video of RIOC Mobile Food Truck Meeting

RIOC's plan to mandate additional permitting of NYC licensed food trucks and to allocate certain areas for them to operate in presupposes that RIOC has the authority to do so.  Roosevelt Island resident Mark Lyon attending the meeting and challenged RIOC's right to require additional permits for Mobile Food Trucks. RIOC's General Counsel Donald Lewis, who presented RIOC's plan, did not address the issues raised by Mr. Lyon but resident RIOC Director Howard Polivy stated he believed RIOC has the authority to regulate Roosevelt Island streets. Mr. Lewis also did not respond to my question as to what the rules and regulations are that might exclude Mobile Food Trucks from operating on the street near the subway.

Mr. Lyon comments on the authority of RIOC to regulate Mobile Food Trucks on Roosevelt Island:
My main concern is not the availability of Food Trucks, it is RIOC's insistence that they need to regulate and extract a profit from every activity on the island, even to the detriment of the people the Corporation should benefit.  The food truck issue, however, is a very compact and understandable example of the problem.

RIOC wanted to avail itself to the benefit of converting our private roads to city streets.  In doing so, they opened the streets up for compatible uses, including food trucks with valid all-city permits.  RIOC's imposition of additional conditions on the presence of food trucks, over and above the regulations of the City of New York, is unnecessary and an abuse of their authority. RIOC permits serve no purpose but to deter food trucks from serving the island; no additional safety is provided by the scheme, which relies on the permits these vendors already have. As we've heard in the past few meetings, these restrictions seem to be geared toward ensuring the happiness of their commercial lessees (Related and others) and not the citizens of the island.  To that end, offering an expensive, limited use permit is an excellent way to eliminate the possibility of Roosevelt Island becoming a "dinner stop" for food trucks heading to the commissaries in Queens each night.

Based on my reading of the law and the ground lease, I believe that RIOC lacks the authority to prohibit the lawful use of the roads on the island.  They can certainly determine where they wish to locate parking spaces, set speed limits and control other features of the roads, but requiring certain classes of users to buy permits when that authority has already been taken (and permission to the vendors granted) by the City of New York is a step too far.  

If RIOC has this authority, do they also have the authority to regulate delivery services?  Can they set special rates for Taxicabs or require that they remain on-island until they pick up a fare?  Could they, with appropriate exceptions for City and Hospital workers (who cannot be denied access under the master lease), require every driver on the island to obtain a yearly license from PSD?  The latter would arguably make the island far safer.  PSD could require additional testing - perhaps a practical exam on how to stop at crosswalks - in order to be able to enter main street.  Perhaps we could set up a checkpoint to verify that everyone's papers are in order.

Personally, I would love to see RIOC carve out a few parking spaces and dedicate them to commercial loading/unloading and food truck use.  Ideally, these spaces would be located within sight of the subway entrance / exit, where residents can easily see who is there each day.  Any food trucks serving illegally (either without a city permit or from a location prohibited by law) could be ticketed by PSD.

Ultimately, though, the effort to limit the presence of food trucks stems from a desire to protect the lessees of various portions of the island.  While the proprietors of Riverwalk have been very involved in the discussions, the Real Estate Committee has done an excellent job of protecting Related by ensuring that all discussions exclude the possibility of food trucks in their "retail corridor".  This protectionism is to be expected from a corporation seeking to maximize return to shareholders, but shouldn't be what we receive from an organization whose charter requires them to benefit the public they serve.  RIOC's own mismanagement of the retail spaces on this island are, in part, the reason we have limited selections. When presented with an opportunity to improve the situation in a small way, their immediate reaction is to regulate and tax it out of existence instead of encouraging its growth.

This highly disappointing reaction by the Corporation speaks volumes about the lack of respect our governing authority has for the residents of this community. With the coming campus, there will be many more important decisions to be made in the near future.  I fear that if this continues to be the approach taken when addressing issues on the island, it will ensure the failure of the wonderful experiment that is Roosevelt Island.
Riverwalk Bar & Grill owner Jonathan Hoo adds his perspective:
I think that it would be great if there were more food choices on Roosevelt Island and hopefully it will happen sooner than later. I am not opposed to Food trucks at all from a consumer standpoint. I love to eat. Love variety and frankly wouldn’t mind something different to eat every now and then while on Roosevelt Island. I would, however, be doing myself as a business owner a disservice if I didn’t represent myself at these meetings and simply ask that current parking regulations that are in place not be changed in order to accommodate food truck vending directly outside of my establishment.

I believe in Capitalism and I believe competition breeds better business in the long run. I think that food trucks would be a welcome sight on Roosevelt Island and could add cuisines that are not currently available. Their presence could possibly retain current residents that currently eat off island and can possibly lure non-islanders to the island. Both of which would have an immediate positive economic impact on the island.

Food truck operators have overhead like anyone else and incur expenses like any other business. They have to get a health permit, maintain their trucks and get insurance. There are plenty of costs associated with food trucks. The food truck operators have relatively low start up-costs, but just because they found a way to reduce costs doesn’t mean they should be punished. I also don’t think that they are currently being punished by having to abide by RIOC guidelines. If you want to do business somewhere, you can’t just walk in and open up shop. There is procedure for everything and I applaud RIOC for doing their due diligence on this matter. They have considered zoning regulations, traffic flow issues and pedestrian flow.

There is an already very fragile economic consumer system on Roosevelt Island and as a business owner who has employed twenty two current and former Roosevelt Island residents, I appreciate that I have a governing body that has taken the time to at least consider the economic impact on local business who has tried employ locally.

I think that RIOC has taken the time to offer a reasonable amount of locations for which food vending would be allowed. As per the Real Estate meeting on Feb 16th, they offered 6 locations. One of which is the circle outside the tram. As the two major transportation hubs on and off Roosevelt Island are the subway and the tram, I see this as a great location for food trucks and/or vendors. Under the master lease agreement with Related/Hudson, there can be no vending from Blackwell House to
Motorgate. That leaves the area north of Motorgate and then south of Blackwell. The only other concentration of residents outside of the Octagon lies in Southtown and they would be serviced by the food trucks at the Tram circle. It is roughly 600 feet from the front door at 475 Main Street to the Tram Circle and a little less than 500 feet from the Subway entrance to the Tram Circle. I, personally, would walk 3 blocks for a good food truck. I don’t see how it could be much more convenient based on how the roads are laid out on Roosevelt Island.

There are over 120 locations throughout NYC that have restrictions on when and where food Carts can exist (Department of Health and Mental Hygine. Title 17, Sections 17-315((k and l() in the New York City Administrative Code and Title 6, Section 2-314 of the Rules of the City of New York.) besides the blanket laws on distance from certain public egresses, bus stops and metered parking. I do not think RIOC is setting precedent by examining the unique infrastructure of this island and making decisions in the best interest on the majority of the community.
UPDATE 11:15 PM - Roosevelt Island Historical Society (RIHS) President Judy Berdy adds:
I was present at the Real Estate meeting, It is apparent that the RIOC staff has little knowledge or interest in the need of mobile food trucks on the island. The locations at the Soccer Field, Lighthouse, Southpoint Park are a joke. There are few visitors to these sites to support a truck except on a few weekend days a year. Charging a fee of $365- for a month will deter most trucks from coming to the island.

RIOC's counsel could not answer many of the questions raised and it is apparent that they are not interested in expediting the arrival of the trucks.

My solution is trucks can park on the West Road between the Tram and Subway. There are parking spaces there that are empty 90% of the time. This is a convenient area for people arriving by tram and subway.

There is no reason for RIOC to demand permits as long as the truck is certified by the City. PSD can come by and look at their permits. If they are in order they stay.

Listening to the staff, it seems that they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Permits, fees, and negotiations would ensure that no food truck would ever bother to come to the island.

Let's stop the beaurocratic nonsense and have some trucks come on the island for free.

They will be making dining here more interesting.


Jesse Webster said...

I think the RIOC's argument for a supplemental permit is tenuous at best. It's sad that, should they choose to implement their plans, our only recourse is to sue the corporation.

Westviewer said...

Extortion!  I wonder if Jessica Lappin can do anything about this? RIOC likes to pretend that Roosevelt Island isn't part of New York City, but Lappin knows that it is. 

CheshireKitty said...

Where are the people at the 6 proposed locations?  The most logical spots are 1) The bus pull-in - now unused -  at the train station.  Or better yet, make a curb cut at the bicycle parking area and let trucks park by the train station itself - this way people getting off the train do not have to even cross West Drive to get to the truck.  2) In front of the tram - meaning parked right by the curb not on the traffic circle - again so people do not have to walk all over the transverse road to get to the truck. 3) Let the food trucks park right in front of RIOC offices on Main St - in the little park between Westview & Island House that RIOC occasionally turns into a de facto parking lot for its assorted vehicles, limos, SUVs etc.!  If this little park is deemed "dispensable" as a park for people by RIOC, then let's get some value out of it for people by letting food trucks park there instead of having it clogged up by RIOC vehicles & their pretentious limos. 

These are the 3 logical spots which must be added to the 6 RIOC has already proposed, because the people are at these 3 spots!  Charging an additional fee is pure highway robbery - like a return to feudalism, having every petty ruler charge a toll.  Why doesn't RIOC start charging tolls to drive down Main Street?  Now let's see, what other fees can RIOC dream up to get more revenue?  Oh, yes - and to discourage competition with the eateries at the train station plaza by forbidding food trucks from parking at the train station or adjacent to the tram.  In other words, because H-R now holds all the cards, it is dictating to RIOC to institute government fees in order to protect its lessee restaurants.  So the Island never gets food alternatives because H-R doesn't want its lessee restaurants to "suffer" and as for us, well, we just have to keep on going to Nonno's or Riverwalk and enjoy it!  I hope the Governor takes a look at this incredible choking of both fairness and RIOC by H-R; this debacle also is instructive in revealing that the current Board - whether they are residents or not - have absolutely no backbone to stand up to H-R. They should all be canned asap by Gov. Cuomo and a new Board appointed that will have the interests of Roosevelt Islanders at heart - instead of H-R's.  

Anonymous said...

the argument that the proposed location at the Tram will adequately serve Tram riders AND subway riders is ridiculous. NO ONE leaving the subway station is going to walk to the Tram to see if a truck might possibly be there before they head north to Main Street. You can't see the tram station with all those buildings in the way.
Yes, Mr Hoo, most of us would walk three blocks for a good food truck... but not if we don't know that it's there.
And, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember Trellis complaining when your restaurant opened.

JPH19 said...

$350 monthly pretty much guarantees no food trucks will come here.  Nice work RIOC.  

Ratso123 said...

I agree with Westviewer.  We are all residents of New York City.  Roosevelt Island is a part of New York City.  We all pay City, State and Federal tax.  This ridiculous RIOC government set-up that is allowed to do virtually anything they want, for example, keeping stores empty for years on end, driving out the residents who are disabled by depriving them of services, doing away with affordable housing, issuing their own permits, must go.  Beware-Governor Cuomo is watching and he doesn't like what he sees.

Jesse Webster said...

Jonathan Hoo says he "would walk 3 blocks [to the roundabout by the Tram] for a good food truck," but what he's implying is that the rest of Roosevelt Island wouldn't. It's understandable that he would want to protect his business, but I don't think additional food choices would cause him to lose customers. 
Many islanders don't think of on-island food choices when they make their dinner plans, simply because the island lacks variety. He might stand to gain customers who would otherwise grab dinner off-island and bring it back on their way home.

No one is going to order from Riverwalk every single night of the week. I usually order a couple of times a month, a fraction of the number of times I get take-out from on or off the island. Additional vendors, in buildings or in trucks, will not change that.

Please don't deny this community additional food choices in an effort to protect island businesses from a threat that will never materialize.

Westviewer said...

I have sent Jessica Lappin a link to this thread. 

RooseveltIslander said...

NY Street Food reports ..."We could be mistaken, but even if there is an authorized location by the F train, it’s doubtful any NYC food trucks will opt for an additional $350 monthly permit fee just to operate on Roosevelt Island.  This sounds like a good way to legislate food trucks off Roosevelt Island!

Whether the RIOC has the authority to impose this fee is still a gray area." 

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