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86th St. food vendors turn some stomachs

Fourteen years after the city banned street vendors from portions of 86th Street in Bay Ridge, local activists are asking that the ban be extended to include food vendors.

At its June meeting, Community Board 10 voted unanimously to request that food vendors be prohibited in the neighborhood’s existing zero visibility area — 86th Street, from Fourth Avenue to Fort Hamilton Parkway, and along Fourth and Fifth avenues between 84th and 88th streets.

Zero visibility areas have not only a ban on merchandise vending but a ban on stores and restaurants putting merchandise, signs, tables or other paraphernalia on the sidewalk.

The original ban, explained Greg Ahl, chairperson of the board’s Environmental Committee, was enacted in May 1994.

However, two years later, “The board found that this did not include food vendors,” Ahl told the crowd gathered in the community room at Shore Hill, 9000 Shore Road.

Thus, in June 1996, he said, the board voted to ask the city to revise the ban to include them. That request was forwarded to both the city’s Department of Business Services (now the Department of Small Business Services, DSBS) and then-Councilmember Sal Albanese. However, stressed Ahl, “As of yet, no such additions to the restrictions have been acted upon.”

The issue has become significant recently, said Josephine Beckmann, the board’s district manager, in a subsequent interview. For years, she said, there were no food vendors in the zero visibility area. “In recent weeks,” she added, “they have been popping up.”

The three vendors who have set up in the zero visibility area, Beckmann added, are licensed. Nonetheless, they are, “Very upsetting to merchants and residents,” she said.

“The stores aren’t allowed to put any merchandise outside,” she explained. “The rules are very strict. Now, we have the food vendors. There’s liquid coming out of their trucks that stains the sidewalk. They are odorous. And, they impede pedestrian traffic.”

In addition, Beckmann said, one of the food vendors has set up directly outside a restaurant, whose owner complained to the board office. “He’s upset, and rightfully so,” noted Beckmann. “He pays X amount in taxes. He’s not allowed to put tables out, not even a sign. He said, they don’t have to pay the taxes I have to pay.”

Following the meeting, the board sent a letter to DSBS requesting the revision. In the June 18th letter, which was signed by board Chairperson Dean Rasinya and Beckmann, the point was made that the 86th Street Business Improvement District had given the request its “full support.

“It was initially our understanding,” Rasinya and Beckmann wrote, “that food vending was prohibited with the general vending restriction. The intent at the time of its passage in 1994 was always to restrict all vending including food vending.”

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