P&Z Hearing Slated On Farmers’ Market Food Trucks
The Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) has scheduled a public hearing to receive comments on its regulatory proposal to allow food trucks to become a permanent feature of local farmers’ markets.
The hearing will be held at the P&Z meeting, which starts at 7:30 pm on Thursday, September 5, at Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street.
In April 2016, after extensive discussion, the P&Z approved zoning regulations that provided for a one-year trial period, during which a small number of food trucks were allowed as a feature of farmers’ markets in order to gauge the workability of such an arrangement.
Locally, during the growing season, the Newtown Farmers Market is conducted from mid-June to late October on Tuesdays from 2 to 6:30 pm at Fairfield Hills. Over the years, that event has been held at various locations at Fairfield Hills. This year, the market is being conducted off Keating Farms Avenue, at the site where Woodbury Hall stood before its demolition.
George Benson, town planning director, said August 20 that following the one-year trial period for food trucks, which ran during the 2016 market season, the market did not return to the P&Z seeking to make the food trucks a permanent market feature.
“When they (market) had the food trucks, it was fine... The trial period was successful... We didn’t have any issues with it,” Mr Benson said. The trial period was designed test the operational aspects of having food trucks present at a farmers’ market, not the profit that food truck operators would derive from being at the market.
When food truck operators showed an interest in doing business at the farmers’ market this year, the town Land Use Agency decided to let them return, Mr Benson said. The zoning regulations to be aired at the September 5 public hearing would formalize food trucks as a permanent feature of farmers’ markets.
Sue Shortt is one of the market masters at The Newtown Farmers Market. Ms Shortt said August 21 of the proposed zoning regulations, “I hope they [P&Z] approve it.”
This season, the market has had the food truck known as Sonny’s Grinders at the market, she said. The truck sells sandwiches and offers foods with an Asian character. Occasionally, other food truck operators have come to the market this season, she added. Ms Shortt said she expects that food trucks that sell pizza would do well at the market.
During the 2016 market season, the market had one food truck. It sold french fries.
Besides a market fee, food truck operators who do business at the market pay a town Health Department fee for food service inspection.
Suzette LeBlanc, the Health Departments’s food service inspector, explained that food trucks are subject to inspections for sanitary conditions similar to the inspections conducted at conventional eateries located in buildings.
In late July, Newtown attracted about 20 food trucks to Fairfield Hills when the Chamber of Commerce of Newtown and the town Parks & Recreation Department jointly staged the Second Annual Newtown Day event.
The P&Z’s proposed zoning regulations, which would make food trucks a permanent aspect of local farmers’ markets, specify several conditions.
According to the proposed rules: a maximum of three food trucks would be allowed at each farmers’ market session; the trucks must be parked on asphalt; food truck vendors must register with the town at least two weeks before the first farmers’ market session of the season; and if there are more than three food truck operators who want to participate, the market will hold a lottery to determine who will be allowed to attend.
The P&Z defines a farmers’ market as a seasonal outdoor event where items are offered for sale to the general public, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, plants, flowers, eggs, honey, maple syrup, dairy products, jams, jellies, baked foods, and seasonal items like Christmas trees and cemetery baskets.
In April 2016, after lengthy discussion, P&Z members unanimously approved zoning rule changes that allowed farmers markets to have “temporary food establishments,” thus permitting vendors to sell various prepared foods. The regulations allowed food vendors to operate either from a food truck or within a tent.
The farmers’ market had sought that zoning rule change to boost attendance and spur business activity. In 2016, Mr Benson cautioned that it may take the market “a few years” before such increased sales materialize.
Following discussion, P&Z members unanimously approved a motion to allow temporary food establishments to do business at the farmers’ market.
What is now The Newtown Farmers Market at Fairfield Hills began as an all-organic market in Sandy Hook Center.
The market started in a parking lot behind the former St John’s Episcopal Church on Washington Avenue and was also temporarily located at the former Lexington Gardens site on Church Hill Road. It returned to St John’s, after which it gained permission to hold the market at Fairfield Hills.
In its first year there, the market was staged near the former main entrance to Fairfield Hills. During the following two years, it was positioned near Danbury Hall, a building that has since has been demolished. The market then moved to the area north of Shelton House.
The town-owned Fairfield Hills core campus is in the Fairfield Hills Adaptive Reuse (FHAR) zone. The P&Z allows a farmers’ market in the FHAR zone provided that it complies with the state Department of Agriculture definition of a “certified farmers’ market.” Items offered for sale at a local farmers’ market must be Connecticut-grown or made from Connecticut-grown produce.