Should Cortland allow food trucks year-round? City meeting stirs debate

Local resident Joey Maynard stands in front of his food truck (photo courtesy of PigVycious BBQ)

The first City of Cortland Common Council meeting of September galvanized debate concerning the approval of mobile food vending--otherwise commonly known as food trucks--in Cortland.

The proposed law would allow food trucks to park and operate in various locations throughout the city, including the Prospect Terrace area near the SUNY Cortland campus; on Court Street near Courthouse Park; Tompkins Street; and Huntington Street. Food trucks would be allowed to operate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. but would also be required to pay an annual $1,200 fee to operate in the designated zones.

SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum spoke out against the proposed law during public comment. Bitterbaum opened his statement by saying he spoke on behalf of his community—7,000 students and 1,400 staff—stating that the college community was in opposition to the proposed change in law.

Bitterbaum cited concerns about student, faculty, and staff regarding both pedestrian and food safety on or near the campus. He was also concerned about the proliferation of food trucks creating competition with local restaurants, especially those establishments participating with SUNY Cortland’s meal plans.

“I want to make it clear, we’re in opposition ,” Bitterbaum said. “I have to keep my community safe.”

Joey Maynard, owner and operator of Pig Vycious BBQ food truck, is entering his fourth year of business and is urging the City of Cortland to give him a platform to operate in town. Maynard refuted the claim that food trucks aren’t sanitary.

“I’m inspected harshly by the health department. If I wasn’t sanitary, they’d shut me down,” he said.  

Maynard also addressed Bitterbaum’s concerns about the safety of student, faculty and staff near the SUNY Cortland campus.

“When I’m serving food, my truck is stopped, so there’d be no issue of hitting anybody,” he said.

Sentiments and opinions were mixed among Mayor Brian Tobin and members of Common Council. While some remained quiet, others spoke out either for or against mobile food vending.

Eighth Ward Alderman Thomas Michales mentioned the recent loss of Blue Burrito, a restaurant on Groton Avenue in his ward, allegedly due to a food truck being parked down the street from the establishment.

“I’ve been an opponent of this for a long time, and I don’t see my mind changing,” Michales said.

Fourth Ward Alderman John Bennett questioned Michales’ claim while also arguing in favor of food trucks.

“I’m not opposed to food trucks because, number one, I don’t think we’re going to get the overflow of food trucks in the city of Cortland that people think we’re going to get,” Bennett said. “I have concerns about some of the locations, but I also do not believe that, in most cases, it’s going to hurt businesses downtown.”

Due to the overwhelmingly split decision, the consideration of the resolution to approve mobile food vending has been tabled for the Dec. 5 Common Council meeting.

Fifth Ward Alderman Adam Megivern said he would like to see “deeper inclusion” from the community and is urging residents to participate and give feedback so a decision can be made before the intended implementation of the law in 2018.