We asked our York Weekly readers on Facebook last week if they would support food trucks on public property, following a recent decision by the Board of Selectmen not to change the current ordinance disallowing them.
The post reached 2,535 people, with 114 reactions, comments and shares — the response overwhelmingly positive.
“Welcome the food trucks with open arms…we all need and want a good variety of food,” one reader commented.
Along with these readers who answered our query, we believe the board made a short-sighted decision and should revisit the ordinance banning food trucks from public property.
Food trucks are rising in popularity, and are already showing up on private property. Earlier this summer, the Lobster in the Rough launched its Food Truck Wednesday and in nearby Wells, the Congdon’s After Dark food truck park draws a large crowd nightly. Now in its third season, the Congdon’s park is hosting 30 different food trucks, featuring a variety of cuisines from seafood to Greek.
It’s that unusual variety and unique offering that led newly elected selectman Marilyn McLaughlin to seek to change the current town ordinance. “The way I see food trucks, they provide a unique opportunity to savor the flavors of different foods in different parts of York,” she said. “This is a new thing for young people. They’re outside enjoying what York has to offer and they want the convenience of having different options.”
Her fellow board members raised a variety of concerns, primarily that food trucks are unfair competition for existing local businesses. They also questioned how the town would restrict the number of trucks if they were located on public property. But with discussion and a look at what neighboring communities are already doing, an ordinance can be crafted that addresses these concerns and works for York. For instance, Town Manager Steve Burns said a certain number of designated spaces could be set aside. McLaughlin said the ordinance could be set up to allow food trucks in places where there is no restaurant nearby, such as at the Bog Road fields.
Area towns have found a way to welcome, and regulate, food trucks. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, food trucks are permitted during a certain time of the year in designated public parking spaces on State and Hanover Streets. Kennebunk permits food trucks in certain designated spaces, such as at the town’s Waterhouse Center, located in the heart of downtown Kennebunk. The town requires trucks to conform to certain sign and lighting requirements, as well as color and size specifications.
Those who responded to the Weekly's Facebook post said they feel good, healthy competition is not a bad thing, and that food trucks would bring a variety of culinary options to York, complementing, not hurting existing restaurants. They commented with ideas worthy of discussion, like beginning with local York restaurants that also have food trucks.
“Saying no to food trucks is the easy, lazy way out. There are already food trucks here. Some businesses have been ‘hosting’ them regularly. The town of Portsmouth has designated, licensed spots for food trucks. That’s what York could do,” commented one poster. “As far as the argument for ‘being in competition’…good! It raises the bar. However, they should come under the same scrutiny and equal licensing as brick & mortar.”
“There are people for whom food trucks will never be appealing…I doubt that restaurants will lose significant revenue to them. York seems to struggle getting out of the mindset of keeping things the same as they have always been. New England is full of historic towns. To remain relevant as a tourist town, we need to appeal to a wide demographic. This would be a relatively easy step in the right direction,” commented another.
Despite the initial negative reaction from the board, McLaughlin told her peers “You’ll be hearing from me again.” It is refreshing to see a new board member tackle an issue she feels is important from the get-go, and we do hope McLaughlin brings this back before her fellow selectmen — and that the reaction from our readers boosts her effort and the board’s reconsideration.