Saranac Lake board mulls food truck permits

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake Village Board is discussing the creation of a new permit system that would regulate food trucks and carts in Saranac Lake.

Food trucks are currently allowed in the village, but they mostly operate during large events like Winter Carnival or the CanAm rugby weekend. Trustee Tom Catillaz said there have been food trucks in Saranac Lake before, but they’ve never lasted long as mainstay businesses.

The village has some control over food trucks and carts now through its rules on how long a vehicle can be parked on the street.

Village Mayor Jimmy Williams said he’s been approached by several vendors asking how to get a permit to set up shop during weekends or weekdays. Harrietstown Supervisor Jordanna Mallach also brought the question to him after getting similar questions herself.

There are no such permits right now, but Trustee Matt Scollin said the village should have them to sanction food trucks in a “controlled and fair manner” — controlled in terms of requiring licenses from county health departments for food safety, fair in terms of competition with brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Several village board members have said they would like to see more food trucks in town because they feel it creates a “vibrant” downtown with different dining options. Some have also expressed hesitancy, wondering how these pop-up eateries would impact dine-in businesses that own property and pay village taxes.

Trustee Rich Shapiro said food truck owners do not pay taxes to run a business in the village since they don’t own property in the village and wondered how much the village should accommodate them because of that.

Williams said if the village charged for permits, that could be a way for it to make some money from the mobile businesses.

Catillaz thought, with the condition of the restaurant industry, introducing food trucks might not be a good idea. Catillaz said the village needs restaurants in a healthy position first, and they’re not right now.

Williams, who co-owns the restaurant and bar Bitters and Bones, said though during the shoulder seasons, business is “hurting,” in the summer, it’s booming.

“Last summer we were so busy and overwhelmed most places were on a one-hour wait,” Williams said. “Folks would kind of pinball around every place we have in Saranac Lake and probably settled on pizza.”

Shapiro said they should check with local restaurants.

Scollin drafted some sample language for a food truck permit law. He said he mostly lifted the language from the city of Plattsburgh’s law, with portions from the city of Ithaca, and made some edits. The village Downtown Advisory Board also has marked up the same law.

Scollin said now, his goal is to reconcile these two drafts. He hopes to have merged the two into one by the board’s next meeting on July 11. Williams said he expects some public discussion of the topic then.

Board members also said they want to ask restaurant owners how they feel about on-the-street eats.

Scollin said he wants to “get it right” the first time.

Williams said the main issue is dictating acceptable locations.

Scollin said this could mean giving them approved locations and having everywhere else in the village be out of bounds, or the village could approve food trucks and carts to be anywhere, but set up restricted locations. Scollin said he prefers the former currently.

The language currently includes requirements like insurance, licenses for driving, and food and alcohol permits from the county.

Shapiro said the village will have to run the language by the village attorneys to make sure it can enforce the punishments for breaking the rules — fines, jail time or revoking permits. Scollin said this draft was just a “copy-paste” so far, so they’ll need to fine tune it to make it legally binding.

The draft language includes rules on the distance food trucks and carts can be from restaurants, hours of operation and requirements for trash disposal.

The draft language can be found in the village agenda at https://bit.ly/3QTYXR2 starting on page 90.


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