PORTLAND, Maine — Portland loosened up its ordinance regulating the city’s burgeoning food truck scene Monday, giving the mobile eateries more freedom to cluster together and stay parked longer in city spaces.
After trending on national television shows like the Food Network’s “ Great Food Truck Race” and seeing high-profile growth in cities like New York and Washington, D.C., food trucks were legalized in Portland during the summer of 2012.
By the time the 2013 summer season was ramping up in May, eight permanent food trucks had obtained permits to do business in Portland, but operators quickly began complaining that the rules initially put in place to govern the so-called mobile vendors were too restrictive.
Initially, the fees and space regulations approved by the Portland City Council represented a compromise between food truck owners, who wanted their businesses allowed, and traditional restaurateurs, who worried about competition.
With a unanimous vote Monday night, the council turned the dial back in the favor of the food truck owners.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic told his fellow councilors Monday the proposed changes reflect the types of regulations the city’s food truck task force intended initially, but were lost in translation as the ordinance language was drafted.
A slate of ordinance changes approved by the council at its regular meeting, among other things, strikes language preventing food trucks from being stationed any closer than 65 feet from one another on the peninsula — the part of Portland south of Interstate 295 — or 200 feet from one another in the rest of the city.
That step will allow food trucks to gather close together in food court-style clusters during festivals or on streets with high tourist traffic, but few restaurants.
“We never wanted [the trucks to be kept 65 feet apart],” Suslovic said. “We wanted the food trucks to be able to cluster.”
Also under the ordinance changes, the food trucks will also be able to feed parking meters to stay in metered parking spots for twice the maximum time limits, which typically are two hours per spot. Previously, food trucks could only park in a spot for the maximum of two hours, and then had to move to another nearby spot for another two hours.
Food truck operators had also complained that, in addition to a $30 building permit, they were forced to pay for $75 occupancy permit fees for each location on private property they set up, meaning a truck moving to three different privately owned parking lots in the course of a work week would end up paying a multiplied $225 in occupancy permit fees.
The ordinance alteration creates a new permit category specifically for mobile vendors costing $30 per site, more than halving those costs.
Finally, the new rules eliminate gray area over the allowable size of food trucks, which Suslovic said can be longer than 20 feet with Monday night’s vote. Suslovic said most food trucks are manufactured to be 23-26 feet in length.
Larger food trucks will still only be seen on private parking lots, however, as metered streetside parking spaces cannot accommodate vehicles larger than 20 feet in length.