PORTLAND – The city took its first major step tonight toward bringing food trucks to Portland.
The Creative Portland Corp. board of directors voted 6-1 in favor of food-truck policy recommendations. The recommendations will go to the City Council’s Health and Recreation Committee for consideration.
If the committee likes what it sees, it will place the recommendations into an ordinance, which it will send to the City Council for final approval.
“A lot of good work has been done in a very short period of time,” said Christopher Campbell, a Creative Portland board member, before voting yes on the recommendations.
Food trucks, and occasionally food trailers, are basically well-equipped kitchens on wheels. Unlike food carts, which the city now allows, food trucks generally have full-size refrigerators, freezers, grills and stoves, so they can produce more types of cuisine than food carts – including more gourmet cuisine – and produce it in large quantities.
Creative Portland is a nonprofit organization that supports efforts that enhance Portland’s creative economy. Its board approved 18 policy recommendations Wednesday for food trucks. It looked at ordinances in Brunswick, Chicago and other cities for guidance. The recommendations say food trucks:
• Must stay at least 65 feet from brick-and-mortar restaurants.
• Can be no wider than 10 feet and no longer than 40 feet.
• May not operate where restaurants are prohibited by zoning, except they would be allowed in city parks and school-parking areas.
• Can park in public parking lots, but not garages. They cannot be parked overnight on city streets or in city parking lots.
• Must have receptacles for trash and recyclables and follow National Park noise guidelines of 74 decibels at 10 feet and 60 decibels at 50 feet.
One-time inspections would cost $50. Permits for food trucks with their own generators would cost $1,500 per year. A permit to use only a private parking lot with power from a pole or building would cost $750 per year. A single-day license would cost $50.
Standard city and state health, safety and insurance rules would apply.
Andy Graham, the board’s president, said the board took the $1,500 permit price from Brunswick’s ordinance. He said it is “modestly steep,” “but one of the criticisms of food trucks is they don’t generate tax revenues.
“This will make sure they’re producing something for the city coffers,” Graham said.
City Councilor David Marshall was the lone board member who voted against the recommendations. He has been pushing for food trucks for years, he said, but doesn’t like the idea of letting them use city parking spots.
He says that would create a battle with Portland’s Downtown District and the Maine Restaurant Association, which will argue that less parking will hurt brick-and-mortar restaurants. Neither organization sent a representative to Wednesday’s meeting to speak.
Food trucks have become popular in other “foodie” cities, such as Portland, Ore., Seattle, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. They’re unique, supporters say, because they allow restaurateurs to go and find customers instead of waiting for customers to come to them.
Norine Kotts, manager of El Rayo Taqueria on York Street, said they appeal to restaurateurs and entrepreneurs because they have lower overhead costs that brick-and-mortar restaurants. They’re also popular at weddings and other functions, which adds a source of revenue, she said.
Many high-profile chefs have begun opening food trucks across the country, citing such advantages.
Some restaurant owners have fought against food-truck ordinances, saying the extra competition detracts from their business. But Andre Polhill, who wants to start a food truck in Portland with barbecue and Southern comfort food, dismissed that argument.
“If I’m going to a food truck, I’m not going to go to a brick-and-mortar restaurant,” Polhill said. “If I want to sit down, I’m going to go somewhere where I can sit down. This is a win-win for the whole city.”