‘It’s Starting To Run More Rampant’: Town Officials Seek To Control Proliferating Food Trucks

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New Canaan is seeing an increasing number of food trucks pulling into town parks, alongside the new athletic fields by the Waveny water towers and elsewhere, to the point where it’s affecting local businesses, officials say, and creating a need for a formal policy with teeth.

Though town officials have dealt with eager food truck vendors for years—at times running them out of public parks (where they’re not allowed), pointing them toward a “Peddlers” or “Itinerant Vendors” license that’s outlined in the Town Code, or even inventing rules about how licensed trucks can only go to construction sites—there’s no ordinance on the books that limits when and where those vendors can go, and no fine or enforcement agency to back up a formal policy in any case. 

“We are getting kind of overrun with food trucks and we don’t really have something specifically in place,” New Canaan Director of Health Jen Eielson told members of the Town Council’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee at its meeting last week.

“It’s starting to run more rampant and then they [food truck vendors] want to have more trucks, and we are trying to limit it because we are getting flack from the businesses in town that pay a lot of money in rent, so I understand their plight and it’s not really fair to them.”

Nearby towns that are similar to New Canaan have rules in their Charters or zoning regulations that are enforced by police or other agencies in the municipality, Eielson said. 

While New Canaan for specific events, such as the Family Fourth at Waveny or the Sidewalk Sales downtown, has food trucks come in as caterers—complete with license checks and health inspections, as well as agreed-upon terms of hours and location—open questions remain about what types of trucks the town may want and what sorts of checks should be required of the businesspeople that operate them. 

Councilman Steve Karl, a committee co-chair, said there’s “definitely a need” for either a beefed-up “Itinerant Vendors” ordinance or new one. 

“Any time we have something like this where you see it’s growing, it’s up to us in the town to control it,” he said.

Karl added: “You look at all of the good work that Baskin Robbins does in terms of charity and volunteering and all of the stuff that goes into having a business, and they pay rent to be there, and to have somebody pull up in a truck and take some business away from someone like that, that is a pretty big deal. And I think all of New Canaan and all of the taxpayers they would side on Baskin Robbins’ side.”

Ultimately, the Committee called on Eielson, with help from Administrative Officer Tom Stadler, who also deals with food trucks, to propose some language that the group could bring to the full Town Council.

“Obviously you are going to have to have rules that are objective and fair,” Councilman Tom Butterworth said. “The hardest part is: What are the criteria?”

Karl noted that any proposed new rules would need to be run by the town attorney.

Stadler said the questions surrounding allowances for food trucks are confusing. For example, residents often claim that no food trucks should be allowed in the “magic circle” that defines the very center of the downtown, though no reference to or specific definition of that area can be found in New Canaan’s official documents. 

“Would it be OK if they parked in Walgreen’s parking lot?” Stadler said. “That is a private lot. What if they parked out front of Town Hall here and they moved every two hours, because that is what the parking rule says? Is that OK? There’s nothing on that books that says what they can or cannot do.”

Though there are hard rules in place regarding school grounds and town parks, there’s no enforcement currently, Stadler said.

Chief Building Official Brian Platz, a guest at the meeting, noted that much of the food truck activity occurs after-hours or on weekends, so that by the time municipal workers return to their desks to retrieve voicemails, the offending vendor may have moved on. 

Stadler said he has broached the matter with the police chief and that the local authorities could take on enforcement of an ordinance regarding food trucks. Eielson said it should include fines for violators.

The licenses required for “peddlers” or “itinerant vendors” are obtained through the Town Clerk, as the ordinances now define it, yet expanding requirements that already exist may not be the answer, Stadler said.

“My concern is that anybody can get this itinerant peddler’s license,” he said. “The toughest part of getting that is you have to get a letter from a resident saying, ‘I am of good moral character.’ That is the hardest part of it. That was the piece that was put in to keep people out of the town.”

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