Among the agenda items on last night’s Town Council meeting was the hot topic of food trucks in Ninigret Park. At the previous meeting on Feb. 28, Councilors Van Slyke, Cooper and Clarkin of the CCA bloc voted against having food trucks at the movie nights this summer at Ninigret Park, citing noise, potential pollution and an undue burden on a busy Parks and Rec Department.
This was all forgotten last night as the item was brought up again to review the two full proposals by PVD Food Truck Events (PVD), the company that presented its preliminary proposal at the last Town Council meeting.
PVD Food Truck Events, directed by Eric Weiner of Cranston, runs about 100 popular food-truck events around Rhode Island, including in Richmond, Peace Dale and Providence.
Councilor Van Slyke of the CCA bloc motioned to present a new proposal for her own version of a food-truck event, one which would be run by the Parks & Rec Department instead of PVD, a professional organization which runs food-truck events. Van Slyke proposed that five events over the summer could have “up to” eight food trucks, “subject to the condition there be no lighting,” and that the noise level not bother the nesting birds at Ninigret’s wildlife refuge nearby. She also stipulated that “noise” from the event be monitored to an “appropriate” level; and that the event be held in a different location in Ninigret Park than the one originally proposed.
The motion was seconded by Susan Cooper of the CCA bloc, who said it would be a “good place to start,” continuing with “Let’s try it out and if it works, we can go forward, and enlarge it.” Councilman Clarkin of the CCA bloc said “I’d like to echo the sentiment of Councilor Van Slyke. I think it’s a good path to try it out and see how it goes.” He also proposed to reduce the number of events to “…give us time to review it… see if it works,” offering that with Van Slyke’s proposal, “We can have small ones.”
Van Slyke’s motion, which consisted of two paragraphs, would knight Vicky Hilton, head of Parks and Rec, to run the event. This, noted by residents during public comment, was in startling contrast to the CCA complaints of the last Town Council meeting, when CCA councilors uniformly rejected food truck events because, among their other reasons, Parks and Rec staff was too busy to be involved in such an event, despite the PVD Food Trucks’ proposals point it that it would be run entirely by PVD.
In fact the concerns that led to the CCA bloc’s No vote at the last Town Council seemed to dissipate in the light of this new, scaled-back CCA proposal. Those concerns included fears of litter, truck pollution, uncontrollable crowds, alcohol consumption, or, darkly, the prospect of what Van Slyke referred to as a revenue-generating event on town property.
The two-paragraph proposal also lacked mention of logistics, such has how Parks and Rec would find the time to throw an event they’ve never done. Councilor Carney asked about scheduling of the event; how food trucks would be chosen; how they would be scheduled against competing summer events; security; trash removal, and publicity. Except for vague assurances by Hilton that she could handle an event of such complexity with the help of volunteers, no details on such logistics were offered.
Public comment was swift and fierce. Twelve Charlestown residents took the podium to voice exasperation with the CCA councilors’ rejection of the PVD food-truck event applications, while four approved of Van Slyke’s new proposal.
“I’m appalled,” said Craig Marr, chairman of the Economic Improvement Commission and head of Charlestown’s Chamber of Commerce. “We spent a lot of time planning this event, answering questions, putting together contingencies … We’ve been locked up behind masks for two [years]. This is an opportunity for the town to come together, to have some fun… And it was going to be zero additional cost to the town. Now, you’ve got a motion in front of you that circumvents Eric’s proposal. And all the questions that I heard at the last meeting — I haven’t heard them addressed. We heard, at the meeting, that Vicky’s staff was overwhelmed and couldn’t do anything more; that she couldn’t put this event together, didn’t have the resources. We offered the volunteers, we offered the resources, we offered the money, we offered everything else… and now suddenly all that’s been cured.”
Marr went on to point out that the event as planned by the Economic Improvement Commission and PVD Food Truck Events covered all contingencies, including police detail and garbage removal. He expressed concern at the notion that such an event could now, with Van Slyke’s new proposal, suddenly be run solely by the town’s Parks and Rec Department. “Now we’re going to start from scratch, on our own, with a department that does not have the capacity to do this. I think this is crazy.”
Of note was the absence of previously voiced concern by CCA councilors about a revenue-generating event on town property. “Now suddenly that doesn’t matter anymore.” said Marr, adding, “This is preposterous.”
Other residents were equally perplexed. One of them, newly arrived in Charlestown, was a former president of the Burrillville town council. He cited that town’s success with food-truck events, which served beer. “Everyone had fun,” he said, citing 700 to 800 attendees, “and we didn’t need a police detail.” He noted that people had indeed come from out of town: “My mom and dad,” he said, “came with their lawn chairs.” The only complaint about the event, he added, was that they ran out of food. PVD Food Truck Events “couldn’t do a better job,” he said. The event “wasn’t taking business away from restaurants. I don’t understand the reluctance.”
The rest of the public comments can be viewed at live stream of the meeting at PVD Food Truck Events’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pvdfoodtruckevents/videos/992990041637864
Councilor Deb Carney, noting along with the public commenters that the scaled-back CCA proposal would likely fail, presented a second motion for a PVD-run set of food-truck events. As Weiner of PVD Food Truck Events defended his proposal, Councilor Van Slyke ramped up her stipulations to include a noise-mitigation fence erected around the event, along with the installation of sound mats, because “this is right in the middle of the nesting bird migration season in the wildlife refuge.” That suggestion was not seconded. CCA Councilor Clarkin then upped the requirements: A $200 fee would be exacted for each event, and the final one of Aug. 14 would be nixed. The $200 fee was quickly raised to $500 by the CCA bloc.
Councilor Carney pointed out that a three-hour evening event for four nights in summer would likely not affect the nesting birds. She also pointed out that according to a decibel level-chart, traffic on Route 1, which abuts the wildlife refuge, is louder than generators that might be involved with food trucks.
In the end, both the Chamber of Commerce and PVD Food Trucks Events took to the podium to throw in the towel in exasperation.
“I withdraw support by the Chamber of Commerce for this event,” said Marr.
“We withdraw our application completely,” said Eric Weiner of PVD Food Trucks Events.
So, no food trucks for us. Unless you count the non-proposal of a deliberate non-event by the CCA bloc. The CCA council members have once again prohibited any prospect of realistic human events at Ninigret Park. Have fun, Charlestown residents: just don’t make any noise, or invite any non-residents, or disturb the nesting birds.
by Regina DeAngelo, Charlestown