Food truck regulations serve up friction in Oak Bluffs

— File photo by Mae Deary

Oak Bluffs selectmen agreed Monday to hold a public hearing on proposed regulations governing food trucks, once selectmen and town administrator Bob Whritenour compiles a final draft of the regulations.

They have not set a date for the hearing.

Mr. Whritenour proposed a set of regulations based on those in Boston and surrounding suburbs. Those regulations would ban food trucks in the downtown area, or within 200 feet of any other licensed food outlet, require criminal background checks on employees, and operate no later than 9 pm.

The issue came to a head when Oak Bluffs businessman Bill Coggins asked the board to allow him to rent space to Irie Bites, a food truck that has operated in Vineyard Haven for the past two years. Mr. Coggins wants to rent space on a long vacant lot at 16 Circuit Avenue that he recently purchased.

“My concern is always competition with brick and mortar businesses because I don’t think that’s a fair playing field,” selectman Kathy Burton said. She also suggested revising the proposed regulations to ban food trucks from a wider area.

Attorney George Davis, who represents Mr. Coggins, said the board of selectmen is, in effect, creating new zoning regulations, and attempting to regulate competition.

“That’s got to go before town meeting,” Mr. Davis said. “The idea that you can restrict zoning, I think it’s wrong, I think it’s inappropriate, and I think it’s illegal. I don’t know that it is the province of selectmen to regulate competition.”

Many Oak Bluffs merchants voiced strong opposition to food trucks, and to push carts or businesses operating from temporary structures. They noted that they will compete with established businesses without paying any property taxes, wastewater charges, or other municipal fees.

On May 28, selectmen authorized a business called Pick a Pearl, a concession which formerly operated at an agricultural fair, to open for business this summer on the 16 Circuit Avenue lot.

“You made a very quick decision that had a big impact,” businessman and former selectman Todd Rebello said. “I have space in front, I’m coming for the same thing. That approval of an outside structure, an accessory building, you opened a can of worms. There are going to be more applications.”