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Upper West Siders Want Metered Parking to Drive Away Food Truck

Residents have been battling a food truck on West 68th Street and Broadway for more than a year.
Residents have been battling a food truck on West 68th Street and Broadway for more than a year.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

UPPER WEST SIDE — They're parking mad.

Residents are so fed up with a food truck that parks every day at the corner of West 68th and Broadway that they're begging the city to install parking meters on the block.

Mobile vendors can't legally sell from metered spots, and locals say adding meters is the only way to drive away the lone food truck, which sells $5 Philly cheesesteaks and $1.50 pizza slices. Local say it overwhelms their block with fumes and noise from its generator.

They're asking Community Board 7 to approve a request to the Department of Transportation to switch 12 parking spots on West 68th Street from alternate-side parking to metered spaces.

"We just want to have a quality of life, and not worry about inhaling noxious fumes," said Stacie Handwerker, a resident of the Dorchester Towers at 155 W. 68th St. "We abide by the law, and they need to abide by the law too."

She's one of several locals who've watched in dismay as the Pot Luck Cafe truck has set up shop every day for the past year on West 68th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam.

Residents accuse Pot Luck Cafe of creating litter and flashing a bright neon "Open" sign in its window. They also say the truck takes up too much space and created a dangerously tight squeeze when emergency vehicles responded to an oil spill on the block last year.

The truck is officially open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., but residents say Pot Luck Cafe monopolizes two parking spaces with help from workers in nearby buildings who save the spots for them.

Residents also say Pot Luck Cafe's owners regularly break the law by refueling their generator on the street. Officials at the 20th Precinct referred inquiries about Pot Luck Cafe to the NYPD's press office, which did not respond to a request for information.

Joseph Okolie, a Nigerian immigrant who co-owns the Pot Luck Cafe with his Korean War vet father-in-law Eddie Prokopiak, said he wasn't aware of police issuing any citations against his truck. He declined to comment further, but noted that his business has suffered because local residents have encouraged neighbors to stop buying food from Pot Luck Cafe.

Okolie said the mini-movement to force his truck off West 68th Street was started by one angry resident who keeps a video log of his truck's alleged infractions. The resident, Mark Dooley, could not be reached for comment.

But to customers like Jamie Clement, Pot Luck Cafe isn't a nuisance — it's a bargain. Clement, who lives half a block from the truck, said he wasn't bothered by the truck's noise or smell and buys lunch there because it's cheap and convenient.

"You can chalk this [dispute] up to 'I've got nothing better to do with my life so I'm going to create a community group to rid West 68th Street of this scary, horrible food truck,'" Clement said. "There are bigger issues to worry about, like education and crime prevention."

The request to install metered parking on the block has sparked some backlash: 18 residents opposed to the idea presented a petition to Community Board 7's transportation committee in March. Some noted that their building's doormen rely on the non-metered parking, said Andrew Albert, chairman of the board's transportation committee.

The committee voted in favor of adding parking meters, in part because of a "fairness" issue, Albert said. For unknown reasons, West 68th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue is one of the only blocks in the West 60s that doesn't have metered parking, Albert said.

"There are lots of reasons to [add metered parking]," Albert said. "Having these spots turn over will make it easier for people to visit local businesses." He added that the meters will also generate revenue for the city, but said that was not the only reason to install them.

Residents have been battling the Pot Luck Cafe truck for more than a year, and the issue is discussed regularly — and sometimes heatedly — at Community Board 7 and 20th Precinct Community Council meetings.

The West 68th Street residents aren't alone. Food trucks have been a source of frustration in neighborhoods citywide. But locals say efforts to crack down on the Pot Luck Cafe have been hampered in part by the confusing mishmash of regulations controlling street vendors.

Their complaints have sparked some action from neighborhood officials. Community Board 7 conducted a survey to count and map all of the mobile food vendors on the Upper West Side, and cops from the 20th Precinct promised to beef up enforcement by working with other agencies.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, said at a recent City Council hearing on lowering fines for street vendors that her office spends about half its time dealing with vending issues.

"It's not really about the parking spaces, it's about the noise and the pollution," said Community Board 7 member Linda Alexander. "It's lots and lots of folks who feel really besieged."

She added, "The people in the neighborhood go to the restaurants in the neighborhood, so the food trucks aren't really for the community. They're not good for neighborhoods. They should be strictly in commercial districts. They're taking up space, and they smell. It's a tough situation. If I lived upstairs from one, I'd go nuts."

Community Board 7 is scheduled to vote on the metered parking request for West 68th Street at its full board meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 1 at Fordham University, 113 W. 60th St.