2017-05-19 / Community

Food truck furor has temporary power fix

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — After months of wrangling, Kennebunk selectmen have resolved a foul-up over food trucks at the Waterhouse Center — at least until this fall, when hand-wringing could begin anew.

In a split 4-3 decision at its May 9 meeting, the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen voted to allow installation of 60 amp power service at the town’s open air pavilion on Main Street, in order to run food trucks already licensed to operate there.

One business, Texas Grace Kitchen, owned by David Angenend, will pay for the installation to his spot, as well as the electricity he uses during the year.

At the board’s April 11 meeting, town code enforcement officer Paul Demers estimated the cost to upgrade power outlets at the Waterhouse Center from their current 30 amp connections at nearly $5,000. Debate at the time centered on whether the town should foot the bill for that job, having already issued operating permits to vendors on March 15, or get the food truck owners to kick in on the cost.

An additional question then arose at the next board meeting, April 25, over placement of the vehicles. Although selectmen edited the town’s street vendors and peddlers ordinance to nearly triple space for up to four food vendors at the Waterhouse Center, from 80 square feet to 210 — a move made specifically to allow larger mobile truck operations — questions arose over whether such trucks truly fit into the narrow alley on either side of the Waerhouse pavilion.

At the May 9 meeting, Demers reported he and Angenend had agreed to a spot for the Texas Grace truck near the back of the building, near the bathrooms. By running in overhead power lines to a temporary pole for a single hook-up, rather than ditching underground conduit to four locations, as originally envisioned, costs could be as low as $500, Demers said.

Angenend volunteered to pay that bill himself and selectmen approved the change, with Deborah Beal, Ed Karytko, and Chairman Dick Morin opposed.

The vote nearly went the other way however as, right up until Angenend confirmed his willingness to cover costs, Selectmen Daniel Boothby had singled his intention to vote against the measure.

“I just can’t do that to the taxpayers,” he said. “You might not even be back there next year.”

For Beal, the issue was that, by allowing a truck the size of Texas Grace, selectmen had ventured far afield of the original plan for the Waterhouse Center, which had called for small food carts to service skaters and other event attendees at the town’s new public gathering point.

“When this whole thing first started, I envisioned these small little wooden food carts. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envision having these mobile food trucks there,” she said. “Maybe that’s my own naiveté, but I always saw this as an opportunity to provide hot chocolate, coffee, ice cream, and maybe a sandwich, to ice skaters — and others throughout the year. Never did I see it as a place where you would go and bring your family and have a full-on meal.”

For his part, Angenend said push carts such as the ones Beal described are more of a hobby enterprise.

“I don’t know how you can make a living off of something that small. I don’t know how What-a-Wrap does it,” he said, referring to another food vendor licensed for the Waterhouse Center.

Beal and Karytko both suggested pulling back the license in order to do a rethink on Waterhouse Center operations. Baldwin said Town Manager Michael Pardue had suggested the old Route 1 rest stop as an alternative site for a whole gaggle of food trucks.

Baldwin and others pressed Pardue on their belief that a purchase and sale agreement to sell the rest stop property had recently fallen though, due to state concerns over wetland areas on the site.

But Laura Dolce, executive director of the local chamber of commerce, said Route 1 south of town may not be the best site for a food truck.

“You might as well close up business as have a trailer there,” she said. “I just don’t see that as a viable option.”

“Food trucks do bring a kind of vitality to a community,” Dolce said. “We do need to get people walking around our downtown, and we could use more lunch options. I would like to see the town charge market rent for those spots at the Waterhouse Center.”

The town charged Angenend $1,000 for his annual license to operate at the Waterhouse Center, having actually lowered the fee to attract vendors, but Morin shied away from Dolce’s idea to generate an actual rental fee.

“We have a lot of things on our plate and being a landlord is one thing we don’t need to be,” he said.

Angenend said he has fielded only positive comments since word of his interest in setting up shop at the Waterhouse first began to circulate in town last year.

“I was steered toward the Waterhouse Center specifically,” he said. “This size and space thing is something that should have been addressed months ago.

“But literally, everyone I meet here, when they find out who I am and what I do, they are overjoyed,” Angenend said. “I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people give me positive feedback. They all want food trucks downtown at the Waterhouse Center, which is really the only place for them.”

But at least one person at the May 9 meeting thought otherwise.

“I think Waterhouse is a poor place for these huge trucks,” said Water Street resident Sharon Staz. “May Day was not particularly pleasant. Driving through town was not pleasant with the odors that were coming through town from these sites. In hot weather I can see it being even less pleasant than it was on that day.”

Although he voted to allow the power change, Selectman Blake Baldwin questioned the board’s decision to solicit applications for food trucks at the Waterhouse Center.

“I’ve thought a lot about this and I know I’ve gone back and forth,” he said. “On the one hand, we are supposed to be a certified business-friendly town, but I think if you ask David [Angenend] he would say, ‘Not so much.’ I don’t know that that’s anybody’s fault. I think what we have in this instance is a mistake of fact. We didn’t understand the scale of his trailer, we didn’t understand the requirement for power, and so we in good faith granted him a license to operate. But as it stands today Waterhouse is not viable for his use.

“To me, it seems like this is not what we started out with for Waterhouse,” Baldwin said, agreeing with Beal’s recollection of the original vision for the site.

“A food truck of this size is probably scaled too large for that patio or apron area,” Baldwin said. “The patio is 16 feet wide and David’s truck is 8-feet wide. So, it’s going to be a tight fit for everybody.”

Karytko pointed out that the apparent availability of 8 feet of walking space around the trailer could shrink to as little as 2 feet, given the board’s preference to keep food trucks off the engraved bricks purchased by local residents to support operation of the center.

“David’s been a really good sport about this,” Baldwin said. “I don’t think anybody on this board or on town staff has tried to jerk him around. There’s been no intention to make wretched his destiny. But, nonetheless, here we are. I think we are faced with a situation where we just didn’t understand what we were approving.”

Baldwin suggested “giving it a try for one season.”

Selectman Shiloh Schulte said that installing a power upgrade for a single vendor for a single season “doesn’t make sense.” However, having granted an operating license, it should be the responsibility of the town to make the infrastructure improvements needed for the licensee to operate, especially given the town ban on the use of generators by food vendors at the Waterhouse Center, which prompted the need for trucks to plug in, in the first place.

But Karytko said selectmen need to address “what we want the Waterhouse Center to be.”

“I’m really at a point where we need to say, ‘Do we really want the food carts there?’ Do we want to be landlords? Be- cause every time you turn around there’s another problem. You fix one thing and then have five more that need to be addressed,” he said.

“Having food trucks, that’s something that really adds to the downtown, if done correctly,” Schulte said. “But having really big trucks at the Waterhouse Center, on that apron, that’s a problem.”

Schulte also pressed for an alternative site for food trucks, suggesting Parsons Field. But Baldwin that would not resolve the original reason behind bringing food vendors to the Waterhouse Center.

“It was all part of an idea to make the center self-sufficient,” Baldwin said. “I think we all know now that it’s not, and I think we need to figure out what the budget is going to be, how are we going to fund it, and what are the revenue opportunities. It probably is time for us to sit back and ask, what do we want there? What do we not want there?”

To that end, Boothby made his peers promise that very question will appear on a board agenda in the fall, in advance of the Jan. 1 issuance of new mobile food vendor permits.

“I guarantee you we will be,” Morin said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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