Food Trucks Or Their Parking Spaces? Select Board Mulls Which Is More Valuable

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Business , Parking

Food trucks are expensive to run, said Tom Deegan, owner of Mom and Pop’s Burgers. He urged the select board not to restrict food truck operations downtown to the off-season. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — The select board is further refining the rules that will allow food trucks to operate in town this summer, including in parts of downtown Chatham. But where the trucks are allowed in public parking lots, there is a corresponding loss of precious parking spaces, something the board grappled with last week.

The latest revision of the draft regulations for mobile food vendors specifies six pre-approved locations for food trucks, each with different available times of operation. The rail trail crossing at Route 137 would be available year-round from 11 a.m. to sunset, and the Harding’s Beach lot and Oyster Pond Beach lot would be available from June 1 to Sept. 30 from 5 p.m. to around sunset. But because of conflicts with other food purveyors, and because of the parking shortage during the visitor season, the proposed rules are different for the three downtown locations.

At the town offices at 549 Main St., a food truck would be allowed to occupy two spaces currently reserved for town employees, and would be allowed to operate daily from 11 a.m. to sunset or 8 p.m., whichever is later, from Jan. 1 to May 15. The community center parking lot would be available to host a food truck during the same dates and hours. Finally, the spaces reserved at the Eldredge Garage parking lot would be available from 11 a.m. to sunset between June 1 and Sept. 30.

Executive Secretary Shanna Nealy said town staff members visited the six lots to determine the best location for food trucks in each, and found that because of the recent drainage work at the Eldredge Garage lot, the ground surface in the preferred spot was uneven. For that reason, staff recommended waiting until the summer of 2023 to make that lot available for food trucks, she said.

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

“If we could find a flat spot there, I would like to see it open in ‘22, not ‘23,” he said.

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

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

“It’s just the concern about taking up spaces in the parking lot during the season,” Nealy said. Losing two spaces from the area reserved for town employees might create a challenge, she said.

“We know parking is a problem in Chatham, obviously,” Davis said. “Is that conflicting with the idea of bringing mobile food trucks to downtown?”

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

“Otherwise we’re not going to find out what the demand really is or isn’t, whether it meets the needs of either visitors or employees,” he said.

Board member Cory Metters agreed that it’s important to provide a food truck option for downtown employees who get off work late and find they can’t get a table in a downtown restaurant, or the restaurant isn’t providing take-out meals. 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.

The nearby food truck site in the parking lot of the community center was also proposed to be open only in the off-season, in deference to the nearby food concession stand at Veterans Field, which raises funds for the Chatham Anglers. But Dykens said the town should consider allowing a food truck to operate there at certain times during the summer.

“I know that the Anglers will have a fit. 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 modifying the hours so that food trucks aren’t serving at the same time the concession stand is open. A food truck could provide a healthy option for young people in the recreation department’s summer program at the community center, she noted.

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

By allowing service only through around 4 p.m., the town can allow food trucks to serve the public without impinging 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 select board against restricting operating dates to the off season.

“With food trucks, you need volume. They’re expensive to run, just like a restaurant is,” he said. While his truck is profitable when it operates on First Night or Oktoberfest, it would have lost money operating on the day before or after those special events, he noted.

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

While there are more and more food trucks in the region, there are good ones and bad ones, just like restaurants, Deegan said. “The great ones are sought-after,” he said. To encourage them to come, the town needs to set reasonable, minimal rules that provide the best chance for profitability, he said.

Town staff were set to provide further revisions to the draft regulations in time for the board to consider, and possibly adopt, at an upcoming meeting.