The West Tisbury select board held a public hearing on Wednesday, July 13, about the regulations on food trucks and mobile food vendors, although no final decision was made. “We want counsel to look at it before we [take] our final vote, I would think,” select board member Skipper Manter said.
Select board chair Cynthia Mitchell said this would depend on what type of input was pursued, reminding Manter that the board was under “time pressure,” and should not dawdle, if possible. West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand told the board she did not think this was necessary, if it was for minor issues, since they were essentially “cutting and pasting” with edits from food truck regulations of Tisbury and Wellfleet, which have had “a number of counsels” review the towns’ regulations. A copy of the draft regulations can be found on the West Tisbury’s website.
A couple of written comments were sent in regarding the food trucks issue. One was by Doug Ruskin, a West Tisbury resident and a member of the town’s Community Preservation committee, whoadvocated for the allowance of food trucks, even to first-timers. Alongside advocating for small businesses, Ruskin wrote that the community wanted food trucks “as a way of providing a combination of nourishment, entertainment, and support in a town that otherwise offers little in the way of food offerings.” The other was a marked-up copy of the draft regulations from West Tisbury planning board chair Virginia Jones, who also added upon her markups during the meeting.
“One of the things I would like to emphasize is try to make this as simple as possible. Eight pages is far too much,” Jones said. “Every food truck, I think, is going to be different. So in trying to plan for every eventuality, you’re going to automatically miss some, so just make it simple.”
Attendees of the Zoom call had the opportunity to ask questions regarding the regulations and food trucks. Despite this having been a hot-button issue for people, only a few members of the public joined the West Tisbury officials for the public hearing.
Planning board member Matt Merry expressed concern over how the draft regulations state the licenses for the food trucks “shall only be permitted as an adjunct to an event or activity, not as a free-standing food establishment.”
“That would prohibit anyone from doing similar to what they’re doing at the ice arena or at the Home Port years ago, and at the Chilmark Store in the middle of winter. You know, someone couldn’t pull up to say the Ag Hall and [sell] their sandwiches in the middle of winter when other things may be closed,” Merry said. “What’s the reason for that, and do you think that can be changed to allow something like that?”
“I’ll respond to that, since that was kind of my insertion. I think until we change the zoning bylaws, I would be hesitant to use the regulation alone to permit something on a more permanent basis,” select board member Jessica Miller replied.
Merry continued by saying food trucks “are not going anywhere,” and it “might not be the best” to preclude in the long term. Mitchell said this discussion would fall under the zoning bylaw amendment process, so another set of public input would be needed.
Jones added that the regulations had very little about where food would be prepared.
“I think that’s an equal part of the whole situation. You’ve got to make sure it’s coming from a local, certified kitchen. Or, at least, a certified kitchen,” she said.
“The board of health is all over that. That solves itself through the board of health, because in order to serve food, the board of health has its own regulations that we do not need to recreate,” Rand said.
Planning board member Amy Upton invited Daniel Sauer, who owns 7a Foods with his wife Wenonah, to speak his thoughts on food trucks and the draft regulations, since he is “really the only other game in town.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I’m not, in theory, against food trucks. But, I do think in our unique town, with its focus on rural character and community, that I think some deference should be paid to the businesses that are open year-round, and I average that out between us, Vineyard Takeout, and Cronig’s as the three places to get lunch. It’s 50 to 51 weeks that we’re open,” Sauer said. “We provide a lot to the community, and I’m really proud of that. I think we’ve made quite the impact.”
Among the impact 7a provided, Sauer mentioned the free breakfasts he has given to wintertime overnight powerline workers, and the alumni of West Tisbury School and Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School working under him. He noted the shop has provided first jobs to a lot of local kids, and provided employment for young adults while they save money to pursue careers. ”We have a civil engineer, we have an EMT, and all sorts of kids, and that’s just local,” he said.
Sauer continued by saying that the best example of community impact was when he received a request from Merry at 7:45 pm to make baked goods for teachers by 7 am the next morning to support teachers after the Uvalde school shooting.
“I know some of the food trucks are sort of year-round, but in my opinion, you’re just not going to get that out of the food truck. And in the winter and fall, if it’s windy or if it’s rainy or if it’s snowy, they’re just not going to come up-Island, they’re just not. Or they’re going to come for the prime hours, and then they’re going to get out of town,” Sauer said.
Sauer said food trucks coming in to feed people during prime business hours and then leaving is not a bad business model, but it is hard for him to “stomach it when we put in so much time and effort into the town.”
“Again, I’m not against the [food trucks]. I know it’s so hard to get a business off the ground here,” he said.
Miller asked whether Sauer has read through the draft regulations. Sauer said he had not because he was busy, but could provide feedback by email later on.
Upton brought up that with the increase in West Tisbury’s population and tourism, food trucks might be able to offset some of the pressure 7a may feel from customers. Sauer said that a recurring food truck from events would decrease his sales, particularly during the fall and spring, pointing out that there are slow days even during the busy summer season.
Andrea Rogers, founder of the Vineyard Artisans Festival, asked whether her event has had an impact on 7a’s business. Sauer said it was a little difficult to say, but it seemed like it did not since the festival operates on Sundays, which is when 7a is closed.
Jones agreed with Sauer’s sentiments, saying that allowing food trucks that only do business on a short-term, seasonal basis to operate throughout the year would “negatively affect” year-round businesses in West Tisbury.
After some more discussion about the draft regulations, and Jones’ written feedback, the select board closed the public hearing. The planning board plans to look into the zoning aspects of the regulations in case a zoning bylaw change is necessary.
West Tisbury finance committee member Janice Haynes offered to work the feedback into the draft regulations, since Rand would be on vacation.