New ordinance governing city’s food vendors eminent
By G. Michael Dobbsnews@thereminder.com
SPRINGFIELD – There are changes coming to how the city licenses and regulates mobile food vendors and the City Council as whole might begin discussing the draft legislation as early as Dec. 16.
City Councilor Thomas Ashe conducted a meeting of his Public Health and Safety committee on Dec, 4 and listened, along with Councilor Kenneth Shea, to parts of the new ordinance drawn up by the Law Department as well as Police Commissioner William Fitchet, Deputy Chief Cochrane and Helen Caulton Harris, director of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The only food vendor in attendance was John Verducci III, whose trailer on Worthington Street where he sells hot dogs and hamburgers has become a fixture.
Ashe related that two years ago the City Council passed a mobile food truck ordinance as a Home Rule petition, which required approval from the Massachusetts Legislature. The Legislature did not move on the bill.
“Those regulations are dead,” Ashe said. He added the Councilor Timothy Rooke had asked city officials to rewrite the regulations.
Ashe said, “I want to get it [approval of the ordinance] done relatively quickly.”
According to the draft, a Mobile Food Trucks Committee would be established with representatives from the Police and Fire departments as well as Health and Human Services, Assessing Department and the Director of Licensing to review applications for food truck permits.
The fee for the application has been proposed at $500.
Associate City Solicitor Anthony Wilson said the definition of mobile food truck is “any vehicle in which food can be prepared and served in individual servings.”
The requirements for a mobile food truck vendor include standards that will be new to the city, such as “proof of access to restroom facilities with flushable toilets and access to hand washing facilities for the use of the mobile food truck employees within 3500 feet of each location.”
Other provisions include no one business could operate more than five mobile units; a food truck must maintain a waste container for litter they cause; a food truck must keep an accurate log denoting the food truck has been serviced at least twice daily by a mobile food commissary for all food, water and supplies; a food truck can not create excessive noise; it can not operate on public property without city permission; all trucks must have a global positioning system installed on them; a food truck can not operate outside of its authorized location; and no food truck can be parked overnight or left unattended.
Fitchet welcomed the effort to create comprehensive legislation as he said food trucks owners have been “confused” about their responsibilities. He added the draft ordinance “has some teeth in them” as it allows the police to ticket, tow and impound non-compliant food trucks.
He also noted the application process allows the abutters to a proposed location for a food truck to address any concerns.
Donald Courtemanche, executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, said food trucks are “vital” to the Sunday events at the MassMutual center as downtown Springfield is a “food desert” on that day.***
Verducci and his trailer has been once again the focus of some officials in the city. On Dec. 3, he attended a hearing to discuss $500 in parking tickets for being illegally parked in front of Fat Cat’s on Worthington Street.
Verducci had been selling food for years by paying the Springfield Parking Authority (SPA) for use of two spaces and buying his electricity from Fat Cat’s. In 2009, though, Verducci’s ability to operate was challenged by the city. At the time, Verducci alleged an effort to make him move his trailer to another location grew out of complaints Mayor Domenic Sarno’s cousin, the co-owner of Izzo’s restaurant, made about Verducci – a charge Sarno emphatically denied.
Since the incident, though, Verducci has been operating without incident, although with some parking tickets which he pays.
The SPA hearing officer refused to allow media to attend the meeting, but Bokul Bhuiya, the interim parking manager/comptroller, said that Verducci’s unattended trailer violates a regulation. He said it could not be left unattached from a vehicle.
When asked why the sudden burst of enforcement, Bhuiya explained that ticketing officers are rotated among districts in the city and perhaps a more strict officer is now working in the area that includes Worthington Street.
“Every motorist is subjected to the same rules,” Bhuiya said. He added that SPA couldn’t show any favoritism.
After the hearing Verducci and his attorney said they were told they would be notified by mail if the fines had to be paid or not. Verducci questioned whether or not his trailer fell under the rules because it is not registered as a commercial vehicle.
He also wondered why he was not ticketed in 2010, 2011 and 2012.