Oaks Bluffs, MA: Oak Bluffs Considers Banning Food Trucks in Downtown Area

Irie Bites food truck has been located in Vineyard Haven in previous years. -

By Olivia Hull  |  Vineyard Gazette

Irie Bites food truck has been located in Vineyard Haven in previous years. -
Irie Bites food truck has been located in Vineyard Haven in previous years. –

Food trucks likely will never be permitted in downtown Oak Bluffs, according to draft regulations presented at a public reading at Wednesday night’s selectmen’s meeting. At the well-attended meeting, the public and the selectmen spoke out passionately on both sides of the issue — in support of the allowance of food trucks in the downtown area, or in opposition.

This spring Bill Coggins, the property owner of a small alleyway on 16 Circuit avenue, asked selectmen to approve two businesses he wants to situate in the alleyway: jewelry stand Akoya Pick-A-Pearl and the Irie Bites food truck. Selectmen approved a license for the jewelry stand, but held off approving the food truck, saying that the town has not passed any regulations for food trucks in the downtown area.
On Wednesday Mr. Coggins pleaded with the selectmen to allow him to operate the food truck on his property for one season and then reconsider. He has invested considerable resources into beautifying the property, which had been an empty lot for decades, he said, and beautification is in the interest of a downtown area.
“Help me allay the cost, which was substantial,” said Mr. Coggins.
Selectman Michael Santoro said allowing Mr. Coggins to install a food truck would set a precedent for the town.
“No one buys a piece of property unless they know they have the permits in place,” Mr. Santoro said. “You put the cart before the horse, you did that, we didn’t do that.”
“I didn’t put the cart before the horse,” Mr. Coggins answered. “I have been told I had the legal right to do this.” Mr. Coggins has argued that because there are no current ordinances outlawing food trucks, they should be allowed.
Though Mr. Santoro participated in discussion of the regulations, an an owner of an Oak Bluffs restaurant he cannot vote on the issue.
The draft regulations presented Wednesday would prohibit food trucks on all downtown streets, including Circuit avenue, Kennebec avenue, Oak Bluffs avenue and Circuit avenue extension.
“It points to the intense congestion and development in the downtown area that makes it impractical for food trucks,” said town administrator Robert Whritenour, who drafted the regulations.
“What we’re trying to do is identify areas where the food truck could serve the public good.”
Mr. Whritenour called the policy an “honest attempt of the community to grapple with the issue of food trucks in our downtown.”
The regulations offer the selectmen an alternative to banning the trucks altogether, but make it impossible for a food truck stationed in a business district to gain approval.
”I don’t hear anybody on the board saying we need to ban food trucks,” said board of selectman chairman Walter Vail. “At the same time, the policy that is written here . . . is saying no food trucks on Circuit ave.”
“I think you need to look at the nature of our business community, which I don’t think is conducive to a food truck industry,” said Gail Barmarkian. She said food trucks stationed in urban areas primarily service a lunchtime crowd.
One audience member said his family had lived on Kennebec avenue for 50 years. He worried that the food truck would “back up” on his street, and add to the nighttime “action” of the area, encouraging noise and skirmishes.
“I think the town needs something interesting,” said selectman Greg Coogan, the only selectman present to voice his approval of food trucks.
Irie Bites food truck owner Peter Simon offered a petition with 120 names in support of his business venture. Mr. Vail also cited a petition with 34 signatures opposing the food truck license.
In the end, selectman opted not to vote on the regulations. Instead, Mr. Whritenour said he plans to continue to circulate the regulations among town officials, and that there will likely be another public reading of the regulations.
“Hopefully it will be at some point be placed for consideration of the board again,” said Mr. Whritenour.
“We’re disappointed that the selectmen weren’t more open-minded and supportive of Irie Bites,” Mr. Simon said. “Our plan is to be at the fair and over special events, and we will explore alternative locations. Wait till next year!”