Northeast Harbor food trucks supported by residents

MOUNT DESERT — Food trucks at the Northeast Harbor Marina would be a nice addition to the village in the summertime, said most of those who spoke at a public workshop on the question last Thursday, Feb. 12.

Mount Desert’s land use ordinance currently does not allow mobile food vending anywhere in town. But some town officials and others would like to change that.

“I think we over-regulated ourselves to the point of almost nonexistence for economic development and opportunity,” said Rick Savage, lifelong resident and chairman of the marine management committee. “Because of that, the town has kind of hit a bottom. The young people have moved out, and we’re faced with vacant buildings and not as many people living here in the wintertime as there should be.

“It’s a struggle to operate a business in this town, so I think we could open the door up a little bit.”

Kimball Shop owner Nancy Ho agreed that the town has enacted too many regulations that discourage commercial activity.

“I think it’s time to have a little fun … to try something new,” she said.

Somesville resident Jerry Miller said he was “very strongly in favor of food trucks.”

He noted that when the board of selectmen talked a few weeks ago about the possibility of licensing food trucks, there was some discussion of giving priority to local residents.

“I personally disagree with that,” Miller said. “I think food trucks are going to come from outside because the people who run them are not here year-round. They’re here for three months and then take their trucks to Florida for the winter.

“I would strongly encourage making it as open as possible so that if you’re going to bring diversity in, you really bring diversity.”

Two Main Street business owners, Katrina Carter of Carter’s Real Estate and Stephanie Reece of the Colonel’s restaurant, expressed opposition to allowing people to sell burgers or tacos or other prepared food from trucks or trailers.

Both said they pay taxes on their buildings and support the community in other ways, such as hiring local contractors and employees and donating to local charities.

“I’m not sure the food trucks would be supporting the community and the economic development of the community,” Carter said.

Reece said she didn’t know how much food truck operators would be charged for a license to do business at the marina.

“But I doubt it’s thousands of dollars like we pay in taxes,” she said.

Meg Asher, owner of Local Color on Sea Street, said she is excited about the possibility of food trucks and the town’s willingness to “try something new and experiment.”

But she said that, despite the new “wayfinding” signs installed last fall, the town hasn’t done enough to “connect the marina to the Main Street shops.”

Given that, Asher said, “The possibility of excitement down at the marina could be detrimental to Main Street, which is the last thing any of us want.”

Planning board member Bill Hanley, whose architectural firm’s office is on Main Street, said he was “on the fence” about allowing food trucks.

“I look at all the effort we’ve put into bringing activity up onto Main Street … and now we’re kind of cycling our attention away from that to some degree,” he said. “Now, we’re focusing on something fairly temporary back down at the marina.”

Selectman Martha Dudman said she doesn’t think Main Street and the marina have to be pitted against each other.

“It’s all one village; we’re all working together,” she said. “I think the more different attractions we have in town, the livelier the whole town feels.

“If we have some fun food trucks in the harbor and maybe someone selling ice cream to the kids over at Seal Harbor beach, wouldn’t that be nice?” Dudman said. “I think it could give an excitement to our town that we’re missing now.”

Selectman Matt Hart said at the start of the workshop that food trucks have been popular in big cities for some time, and they are a growing trend in Maine.

“We’re facing a situation in our community were we have high real estate prices and high overheads and start-up costs for businesses,” Hart said. “[Food trucks] have the potential to provide a sort of incubator for new business, for islanders and others who might not otherwise have that opportunity.”

Planning consultant Noel Musson, who is working with town officials on possible changes to the land use ordinance, moderated the workshop. His draft ordinance would allow mobile food vending in town-owned parking lots in the Shoreland Commercial zoning district, which includes the Northeast Harbor Marina and the beach and dock in Seal Harbor.

It would limit the number of food trucks to five. Each vendor would pay a $250 license fee.

Any mobile food ordinance would have to be approved by voters at town meeting.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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