Members of the York City Council have decided to a chew a bit longer on a proposal that would pave the way for more mobile-food vendors.

The debate has heated up in recent weeks around the idea, which first emerged in September and is designed to encourage more hand-operated food carts in a broader area of the city.

Some brick-and-mortar restaurant owners are less than thrilled about the prospect of added competition from vendors with significantly less expensive overhead costs.

Not everyone shares that opinion, however. Toni Calderone, who plans to open a restaurant on North George Street in April, said she sees the proposal "as a strong move in the right direction."

"Foot traffic is always good for the storefront," she told council members Tuesday.

The council agreed to move the proposal back into its committee structure for more review.

Sonia Huntzinger, executive director of Downtown Inc, said her organization's board supports the council's decision to slow down. Downtown Inc had backed the original proposal after, Huntzinger said, few downtown business owners initially objected to the idea of loosening the city's regulations on food carts.

"We've recognized there's a whole lot more controversy around the idea," she said Tuesday.

The council will resume the food-cart discussion Wednesday at its 6 p.m. committee meeting.

Also Tuesday, a nonprofit law firm based in Virginia emailed a letter to council members urging them to amend the current proposal.

According to the Institute for Justice, the proposal raises constitutional concerns and "would unnecessarily stifle entrepreneurship."

The letter, signed by activism manager Melinda Haring, is supportive of York's attempts to license mobile-food vendors, regulate the trash they might generate and ensure public safety through health inspections. But, Haring argues, courts have struck down laws that protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from competition.

She is urging the council to draft a proposal that does not restrict the number of licensed mobile-food vendors, the types of vendors, the area where vendors can operate or the distance between them.

"Restaurants and mobile food vendors offer different experiences and have different advantages and disadvantages," Haring wrote. "Customers should decide which of these businesses they want to patronize; government officials shouldn't be making that decision for them."

In a phone interview, Haring said the Institute for Justice became aware of York City's proposal through the Central Pennsylvania Mobile Food Association, a new group of regional vendors who announced the creation of their organization Monday.

Haring said the law firm is not representing the association and is not planning to take legal action against the city.

"We want to avoid litigation," she said. "We want to work with mobile food vendors and try to change the laws just through advocacy and through a grassroots coalition."

-- Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.