NEWPORT – Food trucks are back on the City Council’s plate, this time with an ordinance amendment that would prohibit food trucks from operating on Bellevue Avenue.
The council spent 1 months in July and August, 2019, debating food truck restrictions. Attorney Turner Scott, who represents a food truck operator, told council members Wednesday night he added up 25 hours of debate by the council last summer.
The council action to revisit the rules came about because A Mano Pizza food truck has been operating on Bellevue Avenue at the corner of East Bowery Street, not far from the Mamma Leone’s pizza restaurant in Bellevue Plaza near Stop & Shop, about three hours a day.
“I truly didn’t realize Bellevue Avenue was allowed,” said Councilwoman Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. “The calls are not just from businesses. Residents have complained about it being on Bellevue Avenue.”
“Mobile Food Establishments are prohibited from operating anywhere on Bellevue Avenue,” says the proposed ordinance change drafted by Assistant City Solicitor Girard Galvin at Napolitano’s request.
The change also had the support of council members Kathryn Leonard and Lynn Underwood Ceglie at Wednesday’s meeting.
Under the ordinance enacted by the council at the end of August, 2019, food trucks are allowed in all general business districts in the city where restaurants are allowed by right. The food trucks must operate at a distance of at least 250 feet from any existing restaurants.
The section of Bellevue Avenue where A Mano Pizza has been operating is in a General Business District.
A Mano Pizza was one of the first two approved for its food truck license by the City Council on Sept. 25 under the then new ordinance.
The owner and chef of the truck is Simone Ferrara, a former executive chef at Hotel Viking for two and a half years. When the council first allowed food trucks, he acquire the truck that has a custom-made glass window so people can watch the pizza being made in the wood oven, which was imported from Naples. The truck was operational by December 2019.
“I’m confused and taken aback by this,” Brianna Ferrara, the chef’s wife, told the council members during the Zoom meeting. “A lot of money and business planning has gone into our truck.”
“We are in a business zone approved by the city,” she said. “Our truck provides a different dining option. We have had great feedback from visitors and day tourists. It’s been a dream to see this grow.”
“If you change the spot today, will you come back to us in six months and change our location yet again?” Ferrara asked.
Napolitano and Ceglie said they were not intending to shut down A Mano Pizza, but wanted it in another location. They suggested Memorial Boulevard as a possible alternative location.
Attorney Scott, representing the Ferraras, said most of Memorial Boulevard is in residential districts where food trucks are prohibited. He and Ferrara explained how difficult it is to find a spot that meets city guidelines and is at least 250 feet from any other restaurant.
“The city set the rules a year ago,” Scott said. “People abided by the rules. Now all of a sudden, the city says it will change them. It’s unfair to the people who invested based on those rules.”
Joanna Reves, whose family owns Mamma Leone’s, spoke in opposition to the location near their restaurant.
“I think it is quite unfair to brick-and-mortar restaurants that pay top dollar on rents,” she said.
Reves argued the proper place for food trucks is “beaches and parks, not Bellevue Avenue.”
Resident Kelsey Gonsalves spoke in favor of A Mano Pizza.
“The city is changing the rules in the middle of the game,” she said. “I don’t think that’s fair. More restrictions will put food trucks out of business.”
“The pizza truck has been great,” said resident Megan Mainzer. “It creates more walking traffic in the business district. It’s not right to put a limitation on them when they just got started.”
Mayor Jamie Bova said she was not in favor of removing the Bellevue Avenue general business district as an allowed food truck location.
Scott asked the council to vote down the proposed ordinance change.
Instead, the council voted 5-2 to continue the matter to a later meeting. Meanwhile, Napolitano and Ceglie asked Galvin to work with the owner of A Mano Pizza to find an alternative location for his truck.
Council members Leonard, Justin McLaughlin and Susan Taylor joined Napolitano and Ceglie in favor of the continuance.
Councilwoman Angela McCalla, the other no vote besides Bova, was an advocate for allowing food trucks in General Business districts last summer and did not like the way this proposed council action was developing.
She asked whether every time someone, or some business, has a complaint about a food truck, it will be up to the city find alternative locations or “make other special recommendations.”
“It’s opening up a can of worms,” McCalla said.
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