Curb appeal

Curb appeal

Council relaxes food truck rules, making city more attractive to mobile businesses

PAWTUCKET – The city enhanced its appeal to food truck operators when the City Council last week passed new rules relaxing restrictions and cutting fees for the mobile eateries.

Under new rules, the annual food truck license fee will be cut in half, from $250 to $125, but one-day licenses will remain at $50. A process allowing people to ask for a waiver of the fees will be eliminated, and rules on where and when food trucks can do business will be relaxed.

The council’s license subcommittee recommended a series of changes to “harmonize existing rules” with the way food trucks are handled in Providence, said Councilor Meghan Kallman.

The changes came at the urging of food truck owners, who say the city is becoming a more attractive place for food trucks, with the expansion of its brewery scene and partnerships with the Pawtucket Red Sox, but still discourages activity because of high prices on licenses and other rules.

Council members all conceded that rules they passed three years ago did little to either promote new business activity from food trucks or to simplify the process for the city or vendors.

The license committee last week initially proposed reducing a yearly food truck license fee from $250 to $150, but the number was later further reduced to $125. The council approved a recommendation from the subcommittee that Pawtucket brick and mortar businesses will be charged a reduced rate of $50 to get a food truck license.

The council also approved amending the distance a truck has to be from a “brick and mortar” restaurant, from 100 to 200 feet, but changing it so that they only have to stay away if the established restaurant is open for business. This change addressed a previous issue with a food truck event across the street from Plouffe’s Cup ‘N’ Saucer on Main Street.

Food trucks will also be banned in handicapped parking areas.

City Councilor Terry Mercer initially proposed reducing the new $150 annual fee to $125, but eliminating all one-day licenses for food trucks.

After much debate, the council finally settled on a plan to lower the yearly fee to $125, but to keep the one-day fee at $50. Members eliminated the often-criticized practice of considering waivers for those who ask.

Maintaining a daily license fee of nearly half the yearly amount would “tip a bunch of people over” to pay for the license for the full year, said Kallman. She said keeping the $50 fee would create “an incentive to keep them here” by promoting the higher annual fee.

Mercer agreed to the compromise after some council members and food truck owners balked at his idea of eliminating the one-day license fee option completely.

Deputy City Clerk Michelle Hardy said the current rules prove “time-consuming” and “cumbersome” for her department. She called the proposed changes “great” ones for the way food truck licenses are handed out.

Adding to the difficulty now is that so many waivers are granted that the city isn’t making much money for all the effort, said Hardy.

She said she’s received three phone calls from owners of existing Pawtucket restaurants in the past six months asking about getting an annual license for a new food truck, and all three people were shocked by the $250 price tag. Charging half that amount will be a positive for those people, she said.

Also changed, once the council grants the revised food truck ordinance second passage, are rules on maintaining certain distances from driveways and bus stops. The new ordinance will allow food truck operators to park in legal parking spots.

Hardy spoke in favor of a $25 fee instead of $50 for one-day licenses, calling it a “much more reasonable” amount, saying council members would see far fewer requests for waiving the fees. The council ended up deciding to take waivers off the table completely, while keeping the $50 fee in place.

Mercer and Councilor Mark Wildenhain said they’re tired of hearing requests for waivers. Both said they don’t care much about comparisons to Providence, saying food trucks can go to the capital city if their owners don’t like the rules in Pawtucket and the higher $50 fee.

“I’m tired of hearing about Providence food trucks,” said Wildenhain.

Eric Weiner, owner of a food truck website and PVD Food Truck Events, told the council he and others are looking for some consistency across the state. Weiner protested Mercer’s initial idea of cutting the one-day permit completely, saying it would limit participation in many events, including the upcoming food truck and craft beer festival sponsored by the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Weiner also lobbied for the decrease to $25 for a daily permit, saying food truck owners would have an easier financial hurdle to overcome with a lower cost. He said the rule as initially amended by Mercer requiring a full-year license would have essentially raised the cost for someone looking to do one day of business from $50 to $125.

Councilor Sandra Cano said she would feel “much better” about striking the waiver section from the ordinances than raising fees to $125 for a one-day special license.

Mercer contended that cutting the cost of a yearly permit to $125 should inspire more food truck owners to buy that license and to invest more in doing business in Pawtucket. He said the revisions “put some of the onus” on food truck owners to “not kind of game the system” in Pawtucket.

Also last week, the City Council overturned its earlier denial of a request from organizers of the Pawtucket Arts Festival to waive food truck fees for festival events. Council members said they hadn’t realized that food truck owners were already being charged to be part of the festival.