West Tisbury contemplates food trucks

Food trucks like this one, operated by the Aronie family, were discussed during a selectmen's meeting in West Tisbury Wednesday. - Gabrielle Mannino

Following what was described as a brief and preliminary inquiry by Little House Cafe about food truck parameters, members of the planning board came before West Tisbury selectmen to discuss the food truck regulations in town.

Planning board member Bea Phear said the board wanted to begin discussions on whether food trucks should be permissible in West Tisbury, and “if so, who should regulate them.”

Based on what she understood from state law, the board of health is the permitting authority for food trucks, Phear said.

She suggested the town could simply adopt state law, or it could draft its own regulations. 

Associate planning board member Amy Upton said she didn’t know much about food truck law, except that current zoning bylaw in town prohibits them.

“Having had the experience as a parent at soccer games,” Upton said, “where Josh Aronie had his food truck for I want to say a couple of solid seasons, it was wonderful to have it there, and allowed us to feed our children.”

Town administrator Jen Rand said one impediment is a zoning bylaw that effectively prohibits fast food. Instead of seeking a solution via the the selectmen, Rand suggested a definition change could be made to the zoning bylaw at the next town meeting; it would make it easier for the building inspector to accept food trucks. 

“He’s not inherently opposed to food trucks,” Rand said, “he just feels constrained by the zoning bylaw the way it’s written.”

Food trucks have been permitted as “an incidental use to an event,” she noted. She specified incidental translated into once a season, as opposed to something like weekly. 

Where a food truck might park seems to fall under the auspices of the selectmen, she said. As an example, she said in the past the board denied requests to situate food trucks on Music Street.

When chair Cynthia Mitchell asked selectman Kent Healy for his opinion, Healy, with humor, said, “Just have them hang a sign on the front of the truck saying, ‘This is not fast food.’”

With more seriousness, Healy said food trucks are primarily a traffic problem, so they must be allowed to set up where they won’t present a traffic issue.

Selectman Skipper Manter said food trucks would need to be “carefully placed” so they weren’t operating in residential or historic districts. 

Manter said food trucks run counter to the agricultural, historic, and rural character of West Tisbury, but “if they were limited to commercial property, just like any other business,” he could support allowing them. He said he would not support their use in residential areas. 

Manter said he didn’t think the board of selectmen should be the permitting authority for food trucks. He said a combination of the board of health and the zoning board of appeals would be appropriate. Mitchell concurred. 

Manter thawed a bit on residential districts, and said if the ZBA was amenable, perhaps permitting such trucks at the baseball field and soccer field could be done with a special permit. 

Planning board member Matt Merry said he could support a food truck at the soccer field “if and when we do get back to normal.”

The board took no action on food trucks. 

The subject of Little House Cafe wasn’t overly clear at the meeting. When asked if he intended to bring a Little House Cafe food truck to West Tisbury, owner Brook Katzen said, “I have no plans to do a food truck in West Tisbury.”

Katzen said some members of the West Tisbury planning board came to his takeout window and brought up the subject. They seemed to think he was bringing a food truck to town, he said.

“I was so confused,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure what they were talking about.”

With Chef Spring Sheldon, Katzen is half-owner of the taco truck El Gato Grande. He said while he’d not been thinking about it, should West Tisbury regulations change, “we would love to bring our taco truck out there sometime.”