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Food trucks or their parking spaces? Select Board Mulls which is most valuable

CHATHAM – The select council is further refining rules that will allow food trucks to operate in town this summer, including parts of downtown Chatham. But where lorries are allowed in public car parks, there is a corresponding loss of valuable parking spaces, which the council tackled last week.

The latest revision to the draft regulations for mobile food vendors specifies six pre-approved locations for food trucks, each with different hours of operation. The Route 137 crossing would be available year-round from 11 a.m. until sunset, and the Harding’s Beach and Oyster Pond Beach lot would be available June 1 through September 30 from 5 p.m. until sunset. But due to conflicts with other food providers and parking shortages during visitor season, the proposed rules are different for the three downtown locations.

At the city offices at 549 Main Street, a food truck would be permitted to occupy two spaces currently reserved for city employees and would be permitted to operate daily from 11 a.m. until sunset or 8 p.m., depending on the last possibility, from January 1st. to May 15. The community center parking lot would be available to accommodate a food truck on the same dates and times. Finally, reserved spaces at the Eldredge Garage parking lot would be available from 11 a.m. until sunset between June 1 and September 30.

Executive Secretary Shanna Nealy said city staff members visited all six lots to determine the best location for food trucks in each and found that due to recent drainage work on the lot from the Eldredge garage, the floor surface at the preferred location was uneven. Because of this, staff recommended waiting until the summer of 2023 to make this land available for food trucks, she said.

“I know the Eldredge Garage was the only place where businesses in the area were really interested in a mobile food truck,” said board member Shareen Davis. Board member Jeffrey Dykens agreed.

“If we could find flat ground there, I would like it to be open in 22, not 23,” he said.

“I think it might even encourage people to park at the Eldredge Garage, and that’s a bit of money in the city’s pocket,” board member Dean Nicastro said. The Eldredge lot is the only paid parking lot downtown.

The location at the municipal office parking lot, in the middle of downtown, was proposed to be open only between January and May 15. Why not in summer?

“It’s just the worry of taking up spaces in the parking lot during the season,” Nealy said. The loss of two spaces from the area reserved for city employees could create a challenge, she said.

“We know parking is an issue in Chatham, obviously,” Davis said. “Does this contradict the idea of ​​bringing mobile food trucks downtown?”

Dykens said he would be willing to sacrifice those two spaces as part of this summer’s pilot program.

“Otherwise, we are not going to know what the demand really is or not, whether it meets the needs of visitors or employees,” he said.

Board member Cory Metters agreed it’s important to provide a food truck option for downtown employees who leave work late and find they can’t get a table at a restaurant from the city center or that the restaurant does not offer take-out. The fact that brick-and-mortar restaurants are busy is good for them, but “bad for employees looking for a bite to eat,” Metters said.

It has also been proposed that the nearby food truck site in the Community Center car park be open off-season only, out of respect for the food stand near Veterans Field, which raises money for the Chatham Anglers. But Dykens said the city should consider allowing a food truck to operate there at certain times in the summer.

“I know the Anglers will have a crisis. But what is the demand? If we don’t test it, we won’t know,” he said.

The Anglers don’t play every day and most of their games start at 7 p.m., Davis noted. She suggested changing the hours so the food trucks aren’t serving at the same time the concession stand is open. A food truck could provide a healthy option for youth in the community center’s recreation department summer program, she noted.

“Their food options, if they haven’t brought anything, are vending machines in the community center,” she said.

By allowing service only until about 4 p.m., the city can allow food trucks to serve the public without encroaching on the Anglers’ concession, Dykens said. “I think we can find a way to coexist,” he said.

Tom Deegan, owner of Mom and Pop’s Burgers in Chatham, which operates a food truck, cautioned the board against restricting operating dates to the low season.

“With food trucks, you need volume. They are expensive to run, just like a restaurant,” he said. Although his truck is profitable when operating on the day of the first night or Oktoberfest, he would have lost money operating the day before or after these special events, he noted.

Deegan also encouraged the board to consider installing electrical service at food truck locations, which would allow the trucks to operate without the use of noisy generators, which may be unpopular with neighbors.

While there are more and more food trucks in the area, there are good ones and bad ones, just like restaurants, Deegan said. “The greats are wanted,” he said. To encourage them to come, the city needs to set reasonable minimum rules that offer the best chance of profitability, he said.

City staff needed to provide further revisions to the draft bylaw in time for council to consider and possibly adopt them at a future meeting.

Deena S. Hawkins

The author Deena S. Hawkins