MOUNT DESERT — Two food trucks operated at the Northeast Harbor Marina last summer.
At Monday’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen, board member Martha Dudman said she would like to allow three there this year. But she relented after hearing strong opposition from restaurant owners and others.
“I think you’re going to guarantee failure for all of them if you put too many down there,” Harbor Committee Chairman Rick Savage said. “From a business point of view, I just don’t see the opportunity.”
Steven Foss, owner of the Tan Turtle Tavern, which overlooks the marina, said he didn’t object to having two food trucks there. But he said more than that wouldn’t benefit anyone and would just take business away from other restaurants in town.
Stephanie Reece, owner of the Colonel’s Restaurant & Bakery on Main Street, said she was disappointed last summer to see that the food trucks were serving basically the same food, including lobster rolls and hamburgers, as some of the permanent restaurants.
“They’re competing with us, which I was told numerous times was not going to happen,” she said. “We offer all that food up on Main Street and Sea Street, and it’s really heartbreaking for us.”
Someone asked if the town could regulate the types of food the mobile vendors sell.
“If I see one more lobster roll, my head is going to explode; I agree with you,” board Chairman John Macauley said. “But the town is not going to get into menu management.”
The pros and cons of food trucks came up Monday because the selectmen were being asked to approve a new location for the trucks and for the once-a-week summertime farmers’ market.
Last year, the food trucks were parked along Harbor Drive on the west side of Veterans Memorial Park. But some residents of the nearby condominiums complained about the noise from the trucks’ generators. After considering several options, the Harbor Committee decided that a better location would be on the other side of the park, at the south end of the circular drive where the Island Explorer buses pick up and drop off passengers. The farmers’ market would be just to the south of that, along the edge of the park.
“It’s not taking up any road space or parking spaces,” Savage said. “We think the traffic flow will be much safer.”
The plan calls for extending electrical hookups from the harbormaster’s building to the food truck sites, providing a crushed stone base for those sites and, perhaps, creating a walkway across the park to the food trucks and farmers’ market. The electrical outlets would have meters, so the food truck operators would pay for the power they use.
Reece said that, in discussions over the past several years about ways to revitalize downtown Northeast Harbor, the focus has been on getting people to come up to Main Street from the marina to eat and shop. Allowing food trucks at the marina goes against that, she said.
“When you suck it back down the street, I’m sorry, but we’re getting screwed. We really, really are,” Reece said. “And now you’re asking us to use our tax money to make them a patio, to make them a pathway. It’s just hard for us to swallow.”
Tracey Aberman, manager of the restaurant 123 Main Street, said she didn’t object to having a couple of food trucks at the marina.
“But I feel it’s a little unfair for the town to be supporting them,” she said. “The [permanent restaurants] jump through a thousand hoops to meet all the requirements of this town. We spend thousands of dollars to hook up to electricity. Now you’re proposing that [the downtown restaurants] all pay our tax money to set up competition at the marina. It’s not an equal playing field.”
A permit for operating a food truck at the marina for four months – June through September – currently costs $250.
“You’re providing an opportunity for basically a low-cost experience for some,” Aberman told the selectmen. “And then the brick-and-mortar [businesses] have expenses out the wazoo and codes we have to meet.”
The selectmen voted to approve the new locations for the farmers’ market and food trucks at the marina and to limit the number of food trucks
there this summer to two.
Public Works Director Tony Smith said he would come back to the board with cost estimates for site preparation work and extension of electrical service. He said the money could come from Public Works reserve accounts.
Savage indicated that the bulk of whatever the cost turns out to be likely will be associated with the farmers’ market site, not the food trucks.
Smith recommended that the idea of creating a walkway across the park should be put on hold for at least a year so that if and when it is built, it follows the path that people have already worn in the grass.