An almost decade-long dispute over food trucks on downtown streets in the largest city in western Massachusetts appears to have been resolved. The Springfield City Council is scheduled to take a final vote tonight on a food truck ordinance.
The ordinance would allow up to eight food trucks in designated parking spaces on two streets near Union Station and up to eight more food trucks at Riverside Park. It also limits hours of operation to between 7 a.m.-1 a.m., sets inspection and noise requirements, and establishes fees for annual applications and quarterly permits.
An impasse over downtown food trucks in Springfield began in 2008 when John Verducci, a hot dog vendor for more than 25 years, complained publicly about being repeatedly ticketed and fined for refusing to move from the parking spot he staked a claim to in front of a restaurant.
"It's the ( Springfield) Parking Authority. They enforce you with tickets," Verducci explained in an interview in 2009. "They are legal in doing that."
At a series of public hearings, Verducci and other vendors lobbied city officials to come up with regulations that would let them continue their livelihoods.
" It would set a fixed cost, ( food trucks) would be legal and there won't be as much of a hassle," said Verducci.
But efforts at regulating food trucks in Springfield never made it across the finish line. A home-rule petition filed with the state legislature in 2010 failed to pass. Another effort by a city council committee in 2014 stalled.
Freshman City Councilor Marcus Williams started working on the issue last year.
" Food trucks have been here but they were not regulated and ( operators) considered being ticketed a cost of doing business," said Williams. " I certainly thought we could do better than that."
Williams said the ordinance he co-sponsored with City Councilor Mike Fenton was written with input from the city Police Department, the Department of Public Works, Health Department, Law Department, and the Springfield Business Improvement District.
Restricting the food trucks to designated areas is fair to brick and mortar restaurants, makes monitoring easier, and is a business model that has worked in other places, according to Williams.
" Food trucks thrive especially when they are in a congregation. It drives more foot traffic to patronize those locations. So that was the idea here in Springfield," said Williams.
The new rules about hours of operation and noise restrictions will also apply to food trucks that set up on private property outside the downtown area.
Williams said food trucks will make downtown more appealing for office workers and visitors.
" When you look at a thriving city, you think of food trucks," said Williams.
The effort to regulate food trucks in downtown Springfield comes as the city is also trying to entice new full-service restaurants to open downtown. The city has created a $1.5 million restaurant development fund to make low-interest loans available.
Verducci, the food vendor, who started the fuss almost a decade ago, has moved on to a new career. But he had hoped to keep selling hot dogs from his old downtown spot on the weekends at least through the warm-weather months.
An effort to amend the proposed food truck ordinance to “grandfather” Verducci through the end of the year was voted down 8-4 by the council.