Officials in several city hall departments, including some who have dubbed food-truck operations in the city a “Wild West,” created a plan this week that would revolutionize how the city regulates these vendors.
Following a meeting with food-truck owners, departments including Economic Development and Building finalized reforms that would create designated sites for food trucks, impose a $5,100 yearly fee for each site and use revenues of the fees to enforce new vendor ordinances, said Steve Fontana, deputy economic development director. Officials began brainstorming these reforms in September 2014 after hearing complaints against vendors for dumping food waste in sewers, neglecting to feed parking meters and parking in front of fire hydrants, Fontana said. Over half of those complaints came from competing food trucks, he added.
The proposed regulations will go before the mayor before being sent to the Board of Alders ahead of the anticipated rollout this summer. Fontana said he hopes rewritten ordinances would take effect by June 1, with the $5,100 site fees beginning next calendar year.
“We took a look at what was being done in Austin, Texas or New York City to track this abusive behavior,” said Fontana. “We also wanted a process to diminish these complaints.”
The current ordinances, last rewritten in 2001 before the food-truck boom, neither acknowledge the different categories of vendors present today nor address possible complications, said Building Department Director Jim Turcio. He added that many vendors only pay their parking meters when they see city officials approaching.
The plan would create four districts — Downtown, Ingalls Rink, Cedar Street near Yale-New Haven Hospital and Long Wharf — in which the city would limit food trucks and carts to designated sites, Fontana said. In downtown New Haven, the city officials have identified 22 street sites at least 50 feet from restaurants and with high foot traffic where vendors can compete for spots, Fontana said.
These sites include four on York Street, between Chapel Street and Elm Street, where food trucks like Ay! Arepa already park. Planners also identified five sites outside Battell Chapel, four in front of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall and three in front of the New Residence Hall, none of which are the site of food trucks on a daily basis, Fontana added. In consultation with Yale, Fontana said he also chose two spots on High Street adjacent to Lanman-Wright Hall.
Fontana added that the city would distribute the first six spots downtown via an auction to the highest bidders coveting posts downtown. A lottery ball would determine the recipients of the last 16 locations, with each spot costing $5,100 per year. This price was calculated by multiplying $17, the most intake possible from one parking meter in a day, by an estimated 300 days of operation, Fontana said. The $5,100 would be in addition to existing $200 fee for a license and $250 payment to the health department. The new fee means that the vendors would no longer have to feed the parking meter.
Revenues from the site fee, Fontana said, will fund electrical outlets for each site, which will produce fewer emissions than the gas now used to run stoves and fridges. It would also create a position in the Building Department for an employee to inspect trucks.
“When we spoke with vendors last October, they said they wanted something transparent, fair and simple,” Fontana said. “They said they would be willing to pay some money if they could have that space year-round.”
The proposal would also affect food carts. These vendors, which generally make less money than food trucks, will be charged $1,000 for one of the designated sites, Fontana said. Turcio added that Ingalls Rink, which is surrounded by carts, will have around 15 spots.
Tom Sobocinski, co-owner of the Cheese Truck and its brick-and-mortar location, said he had heard only rumors about the plan and $5,100 seemed unreasonable. But he will withhold judgment until city officials publicly present the plan, he said.
The plan will hold a public meeting on Monday, Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. in City Hall aiming to explain the details of the plan and elicit the support of food vendors.