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Should food trucks be allowed this summer? Councilwoman says it’s time to consider code changes

Food trucks should be allowed to operate in Southold this summer or the town should practice even enforcement of violations, Councilwoman Sarah Nappa said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

Ultimately, the councilwoman said, she’d like to see the town allow food trucks while following through on new code regulating the mobile kitchens, which have become popular at events and businesses.

But Supervisor Scott Russell isn’t convinced that allowing food trucks to operate in the meantime is the way to go.

“We’re giving out special events permits [allowing food trucks] like water, why can’t they just keep doing that?” the supervisor said. “What are we reinventing this for?”

Ms. Nappa said the current system is broken when it’s not enforced with any consistency.

Without naming any businesses, she said that one place in town was allowed to host a food truck on a regular basis in 2021, while another one was penalized for doing so. That business eventually had to pay a fine, Ms. Nappa said.

“We can’t have them right down the street from each other,” she said. “We can’t have one that’s being allowed, week after week after week. And then others that are that are being fined.”

Deputy Town Attorney John Burke said that to date in 2022 no food truck violations have been issued in town since there have been no complaints from the public.

Councilman Greg Doroski said one issue with the special events permit system is that they are used more “in the course of regular business” with businesses applying for multiple dates at a time and approved repeatedly.

Mr. Doroski said he does agree it might be a good thing to see how food trucks operate in town on a pilot basis for a limited time this summer.

“There may be bad actors, but I think there is also an opportunity while we’re waiting for the code to see how it plays out a little bit,” he said.

Ms. Nappa pointed out that some businesses have applied for special event permits simply to allow a food truck with no other special conditions regarding parking, occupancy or tents, something she feels is “sort of unnecessary.” Mr. Russell pointed out that ordinarily adding a food truck to a business would require site plan review, a more cumbersome process, since it’s a new use of the property. He also questioned where you would allow food trucks under a pilot program. “I’d imagine it’s pretty lucrative if you just pull [a food truck] into a vacant lot somewhere,” Mr. Russell said with Councilwoman Jill Doherty adding that she’s also worried that would happen.

One scenario that’s been discussed for food trucks is only allowing ones that are affiliated with an existing brick and mortar business in town. Councilwoman Louisa Evans said one of the concerns has been that food trucks at places like wineries in town take away business from established commercial kitchens in the community. Ms. Nappa pointed out that food trucks are already regulated, with a food service permit from the Suffolk County Department of Health being a requirement.

While the town has not yet taken any action on allowing food trucks, Ms. Nappa stressed she believes they should be allowed this summer.

“This is something that businesses in town are telling us that they need,” she said. “I still would like to work on the code. And I’m happy to put that work in. But I would like to get an agreement from the board that we’re going to allow them this summer for all businesses, while we get this language right.”

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