No food truck cap set, yet

As Town Council wrestles with new state law
Wed, 11/27/2019 - 5:45pm

The Town of New Shoreham is trying, according to Councilor Sven Risom, to “maintain its original food truck philosophy,” as it contends with the aftermath of a change in state law for mobile food service operations.

The Town Council was unable to determine a cap for the town’s local food truck licenses at its meeting on Nov. 20. The proposed cap was set at three total food trucks, as the island had three food trucks in operation under its hawkers and peddlers permit.

The problem is that has changed, because food trucks are now identified as mobile food establishments under a 2019 state law. The law and regulations adopted by the Department of Business Regulations in July, required the town to amend its General Ordinances. As a result, it broadens the field to include other operations, such as lemonade carts, which has caused the Town Council to wrestle with determining the cap, and how to maintain it.

Unable to reach a consensus on the cap at its Nov. 20 meeting, the Town Council continued the discussion to its Dec. 18 meeting. The council unanimously (3-0) amended its general ordinances for hawkers and peddlers and mobile food establishments to come into compliance with state law during the meeting. Second Warden André Boudreau was recused, while Councilor Chris Willi was absent. Boudreau owns and operates an island food truck, Southeast Light Delights.

Per the change in state law, island food trucks needed to transition from their hawkers and peddlers classification, as they fall under the DBR’s definition of a mobile food establishment, which is a food service operation that operates from a moveable motor-driven or propelled vehicle, portable structure, or watercraft that can change location. Mobile food establishments specifically include, but are not limited to food trucks, food carts, ice cream trucks/carts, and lemonade trucks/carts.

The Town Council entertained several motions that would have capped the total number of food trucks at five, and included the three existing food trucks, Aldo’s bakery boat and one from the waiting list. The three locally licensed food trucks transitioning to MFEs are: Carole Payne (Payne’s Donuts at Fort Island on Ocean Avenue), Cindy Kelly (Pots and Kettles at Mosquito Beach and Old Town Road), and André Boudreau (Southeast Light Delights at the Southeast Lighthouse).

Food truck operation now requires an annual registration with the State of Rhode Island, a permit from the town, and an annual fire safety inspection conducted by the State Fire Marshal.

“It’s the state thinking versus island thinking,” said Councilor Sven Risom, explaining the conversion from locally, town-governed food trucks to state licensed mobile food establishments. “In essence, the waiting list (of three food trucks) goes away,” due to state law.

The main problem, Risom said, is that, “If somebody off island comes in and wants to operate a food truck, and the state gives them a license, then we only have certain parameters that we can act on.”

Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla said the town can regulate the number of permits, the location of operation, and the hours of operation. “That’s what’s left” from a governing standpoint, she said. Merolla noted that, under the state’s law, food truck licenses “are not transferable.”

“How many are you going to” allow, asked resident John Gasner, who noted that his son, Noah, has been on the waiting list for four years. Gasner reiterated what the new state law involves, saying that his son would have to go through the state’s licensing process and inspections and then come back to the town for a permit.

Councilor Martha Ball said the maximum number of permits is set at the first Town Council meeting in November.

“The idea was to try to set a cap for the island,” as the Town Solicitor noted, said Risom. That would be done in November, he said, “so that we all know what the cap is, so on January 1st when the licenses are issued by the state” the town knows how many licenses have been approved.

Risom added: “We’re trying to figure out a way to maintain our original food truck philosophy.”

Residents Irene Hopkins and Martin Rosato had questions about the law and limit on the cap, and if the licenses could be transferrable for a portion of the year.

Merolla put it simply: “We’re not allowed to vary the state’s requirements. The state regulations note that the license can’t be transferred and used by anybody else. The where and when is a policy decision the Town Council can make” on an annual basis. “The when part, that too is regulated by state law. We’re not allowed to issue a permit that expires on a date earlier or later than the date” the state license expires. “(The permit) has to mirror, exactly, the state license.”

Merolla said during the first year the law is being implemented the state is allowing for a transition period, so that municipalities can bring their local ordinances into compliance.

“What’s going to prevent people from the mainland coming over for the summer and operating a food truck on the island?” asked Gasner.

“They can’t drive off of the ferry and serve food for a week, and then go away,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste, noting that the town still has a say in governing the island’s food trucks, or mobile food establishments, via its town-issued permits.

Risom remarked that the original intent with the town’s ordinance “has been somewhat pulled out from under us. So, we’re trying to figure out how to manage that.”

Resident business owner John Leone raised the question concerning operation of the Del’s Lemonade stand at Aldo’s Restaurant, his family’s restaurant on Weldon’s Way.

“If you have a Del’s food cart outside of Aldo’s that Del’s food cart is (now) a mobile food establishment,” said Risom. “Whatever happens behind the (restaurant’s) stone wall is another issue.”

The other impact to local food trucks is that operators now have to contend with being first in line to register for licenses and permits.

Cindy Kelly, who operates the food truck Pots and Kettles recounted the story of how she and André Boudreau obtained their food truck permits. “First come, first serve was how it was originally done. André and I sat in the Town Hall parking lot at 6 a.m.” waiting for it to open to apply for our permits.

In other news, the council voted unanimously (4-0) to award the contract to H.K. Heating/Green Way Power of Coventry, Rhode Island for replacing the emergency generator at the Public Safety Complex. The contractor bid $47,350 on the FEMA grant funded ($50,000) project.

The Town Council will continue the discussion at its meeting on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.