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Testimony of the Real Estate Board of New York before the New York City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing Regarding Proposal Concerning Street Vending
April 11, 2019
The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association representing commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople, and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate. REBNY appreciates the opportunity to comment on the legislative proposals concerning street vending under consideration.
Street vending is an important part of the fabric of New York City, and has long provided local residents—particularly immigrants—with opportunities to succeed in our economy. The opportunity to start and grow a business is part and parcel of the American Dream. That is true whether the business is a brick and mortar store, a pushcart, or a food truck.
Mindful of this fact, REBNY is pleased that the Council is again holding a hearing on legislation to reform the regulation of street vending. Indeed, there is widespread agreement from vendors and store owners alike that the existing set of rules and regulations governing street vending are broken and do a disservice to vendors, retailers, and the public alike. For vendors, the current system leads to inconsistent enforcement that makes operating a business incredibly challenging. For storefront owners, it means they have little ability to use the law to protect the area in front of their store from competition from street vendors and keep the area surrounding their property well-maintained. And, for the public, it means that the protections built into law to ensure street vendors don’t compromise public safety are routinely violated.
That’s why, REBNY recommends that the starting place for any reform be designing a system that provides all stakeholders with clear rules that can be enforced prior to any additional permits and licenses being issued. Unfortunately, however, the legislation under consideration does not take the necessary steps to do so.
Additionally, REBNY is concerned that these proposals could have a detrimental impact on existing store and property owners. With the Council concerned about retail storefront vacancies, it is important to recognize that many property owners and retailers have significant concerns that the street vendors make it harder to run a business. For instance, owners have documented examples of grease and liquid from food carts winding up on sidewalks and causing building lobbies to smell, smoke from food carts intruding in retail space, and competing vendors fighting in front of building entrances for space (including in areas where vending is generally prohibited). These types of issues pose real and legitimate challenges to existing businesses that could be exacerbated by the proposed legislation.
REBNY offers the following comments on the specific bills under consideration:
BILL: Intro No. 287
SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to permitting street vendors to vend within two feet from the curb
Intro No. 287 would allow food vendors to place their carts two feet from where the sidewalk abuts the curb while maintaining the current condition that a sidewalk must have a 12-foot wide clear path for a cart to be placed on that sidewalk. In doing so, the legislation restricts the amount of available sidewalk space for pedestrians.
In many parts of the city where vendors seek to operate, sidewalks are already incredibly crowded. Shrinking available sidewalk space, even by a few feet, will cause greater congestion, making pedestrian space less pleasant, safe, and accessible for all.
It is important to note that in high-density commercial districts the Zoning Resolution requires that adequate space be provided for pedestrian circulation. Pedestrian space in these areas, which include many parts of the city where street vendors are most interested in operating, may already be constrained by the presence of street vendors. By reducing that space further by allowing vendors to operate on a larger portion of the sidewalk, his bill would further undermine the intent of the pedestrian circulation requirements in the Zoning Resolution.
BILL: Intro No. 288
SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to permitting street vendors to vend 25 feet from a bus stop or taxi stand
Intro No. 288 would prohibit food vendors and general vendors from operating with 25 feet of the sign identifying a bus stop or taxi stand in the direction of the stop or stand. Current law prohibits operation within a bus stop or taxi stand but does not define the parameters of a bus stop or taxi stand. While defining these terms would help make the rules less subjective, 25 feet is significantly less than the length of buses. For instance, in October 2017, the MTA announced that it would be purchasing 180 60-foot buses.[i] Furthermore, with more bus lines utilizing rear-door boarding as part of the expansion of select bus service, this legislation would potentially allow a street vendor to legally impede the ability of passengers to safely get on and off buses. Consequently, REBNY believes more careful analysis is needed.
BILL: Intro No. 292
SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to permitting food vendors to place items on their vending vehicle or pushcart
Intro No. 292 would allow food vendors to place items on their vending vehicle or pushcart. REBNY has no position on this legislation so long as it does not pose a risk to public health.
BILL: Intro No. 832
SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to allowing ill or incapacitated street vendors to transfer their license to a family member
SPONSORS: Chin; Levine; Ayala
Intro No. 832 would allow holders of food vendor permits and general vendor licenses to transfer those permits or licenses to certain family members should the holder become deceased, incapacitated, or unable to vend due to a medical condition or illness. REBNY supports this proposal, noting however that food vendor permits may be held by in certain types of corporations that are not considered by this proposal.
BILL: Intro No. 1116
SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the New York city charter and the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to expanding the availability of food vendor permits, creating an office of street vendor enforcement, and establishing a street vendor advisory board
SPONSORS: Chin; Menchaca; Lander; Rose; Miller; Koslowitz; Reynoso; Dromm; Barron; Treyger; Levine; Ayala; Brannan; Diaz, Sr.; Levin; Kallos; The Public Advocate; Rodriguez; Eugene; Ampry-Samuel; Perkins; Cornegy; Holden; Rivera; King; Ulrich
Intro No. 1116 would make several changes to the existing system regulating food and general vendors. REBNY is pleased that the legislation includes a new Office of Street Vendor Enforcement that will finally ensure a single entity is responsible for and empowered to enforce existing vending laws. REBNY also supports the creation of an advisory board and recommends that property owners be given equal representation as street vendors on the board.
However, REBNY is troubled that the legislation increases the number of food vendor permits by 400 each year from 2020 to 2029, without regard to the views of the Office of Street Vendor Enforcement or the advisory board. The Office of Street Vendor Enforcement must be fully operational prior to any new permits being issued. Similarly, the legislation should ensure that the advisory board is able to make a recommendation to the City as to whether the number of permits should be increased prior to that increase going into effect. As currently constructed, the advisory board’s recommendations have no impact on the annual issuance of permits.
Finally, the legislation also calls for the Department of Transportation to create a designated vending location pilot program. If such locations are to be created, it is important that they be done only after consultation with the Office of Street Vendor Enforcement as well as local property owners.
BILL: Intro No. 1479
SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to permitting food vending and general vending on certain streets
Intro No. 1479 would allow certain street vendors to operate on Broadway between Exchange Place and Beaver Street where vending is currently prohibited.[ii] This stretch of Broadway, which includes the area near the Bowling Green subway station and the Charging Bull statue, is an incredibly high trafficked area with significant pedestrian congestion. Any amendment to the existing restriction should only be done after careful and thorough consultation with local stakeholders.
[ii] Notably, despite vending being unlawful in this area, the google maps street-view of this area shows numerous vendors operating in this particular location.
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