The Oak Bluffs Association has taken a position against food trucks in downtown Oak Bluffs, executive director Christine Todd told the town selectmen Tuesday at what would likely be the last public hearing on the subject. Ms. Todd said that following a prolonged discussion and vote at its last meeting, the town business association agreed that food trucks would threaten the livelihood of brick and mortar restaurants in downtown.
“There were people who could see the value in it and those who couldn’t, but the bottom line was, we took a vote, and the Oak Bluffs Association feels that for food trucks to be here on a regular basis, day in and day out, may negatively impact brick and mortar restaurants that do pay taxes,” she said.
The debate about food trucks has been going on for much of the summer in front of the selectmen, who have not yet voted on the issue.
Bill Coggins, property owner of an alleyway at 16 Circuit avenue where he’d like to install a food truck, raised concerns about the fairness and expressed open exasperation.
“I am totally disheartened by the way this whole procedure has gone. I have been disheartened and really flabbergasted at the policymaking in the town,” he said. “Nobody is trying to do anything but help the town here. I don’t think it’s been transparent, I don’t think it’s been fair, and I know it’s not legal.”
The controversy began in April, when Mr. Coggins asked selectmen to approve two businesses for the alleyway: a jewelry stand called 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. Town administrator Robert Whritenour has since drafted regulations that impose restrictions on food trucks, including prohibiting them from all downtown streets, including Circuit avenue, Kennebec avenue, Oak Bluffs avenue and Circuit avenue extension.
Todd Rebello, who owns a downtown shop, said he feels Oak Bluffs has already been a “trendsetter” on the Island with the institution of three food trucks at state beach. “So the question is, how many more do you need?” he said. “Three is a pretty big number for such a small town”
Resident Steve Auerbach spoke in favor of the trucks. “I would agree that they should be allowed somewhere close to the downtown under the more-the-merrier theory, that people have more of a choice,” he said. “It’s not going to take business away from brick and mortar restaurants; rather it will bring more people to where there is greater choice. One night you will do Jamaican chicken, another night take out, another night brick and mortar. It will have the effect of oh, Oak Bluffs has all these places to get food and that’s great.”
In the end selectmen postponed a vote on the matter pending the return of selectman Gail Barmakian next month.
In other business, Peter Martell was temporarily reappointed as director of emergency management through Dec. 31. Mr. Martell has held the post for 37 years. Selectmen asked that Oak Bluffs become part of a regional emergency planning committee, and voiced concerns that Mr. Martell has not been communicating well with the fire department. “I want everybody working together on the same page, so that we can have a coordinated department that works well together,” selectman Greg Coogan said.
In the fall the selectmen plan to hold a meeting with police, fire and emergency services to discuss teamwork during hurricane season. Mr. Martell was originally slated to retire in June 2012. His assumed successor, Steve Connolly, a police officer, has been receiving a stipend from the town to receive training from Mr. Martell. However, the selectmen raised doubts that much training has occurred, and Mr. Martell granted that Mr. Connolly has been busy with his policing duties.
“What we need to do is get on with it and get a transition plan to the end of June of next year, and we will have somebody in place, whether it’s Steve Connolly or somebody else,” said selectman Walter Vail.
The board also approved a transfer of $15,000 from the Community Development Block Grant program fund to provide additional child care subsidies to approximately 30 families through the end of the year. Some of the families have already received grants from the Block Grant awarded to the town last June, but they still need a little help, said Alice Boyd, who administers the grants. Others have not applied for the funds before, but need assistance.
“It’s tough because we don’t want them to pull their kids from child care,” she said. The board also approved $5,000 in repairs to the Vineyard Housing Office on State Road to fix the wheelchair ramp that currently doesn’t meet code, and to install handicapped parking spaces. The board will hold the annual summer taxpayers meeting in the library conference room on August 6. The meeting will begin with presentations from town department leaders, including police, parks, and fire.