PORTLAND – The city moved one step closer to welcoming food trucks to certain areas Thursday night, but not without reservations from the Portland Police Department, restaurant owners and landlords.
Proposed regulations would allow food trucks on the peninsula from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., but only in specific locations — largely away from downtown and existing restaurants. Off-pensinsula, they would be allowed to operate in certain business and industrial zones.
From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., food trucks would be able to operate anywhere downtown, provided they are 65 feet from operating restaurants and lodging establishments.
Police Cmdr. Gary Rogers said police were concerned about late-night crowds in the Old Port congregating around the trucks, noting some late-night eateries, such as Bill’s Pizza, have had to adopt formal security plans to deal with unruly crowds.
“An event or an occurrence down there might change the dynamic and make the food truck not a safe place to be,” Rogers said.
The Public Safety and Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to recommend the food truck regulations to the City Council, which is tentatively scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote July 16. If approved by the council, the city could see its first food truck after Aug. 16, according to city attorney Ann Freeman.
“The goal of this is to improve food access in underserved areas,” said Councilor David Marshall. “I don’t expect to see a huge number of these. It’s going to be a challenging business to operate.”
That didn’t allay the concerns of a restaurant owner and landlord who attended Thursday’s meeting.
Food trucks would make it more difficult for existing restaurants to survive, according to Brad Monarch, owner of Sebago Brewing Co. on Fore Street and Michael Mastronardi, the landlord at 164 Middle St., which houses the White Cap Grille.
Monarch said traditional restaurants must sustain a local work force year-round, even though their profit margins shrink in the winter. Food trucks would be seasonal and add competition during the warmer months, he said.
“We don’t make money in the winter,” Monarch said. “If you’re not able to make money in the summer, you’re not going to be able to support those (workers).”
But several potential food truck vendors said their ventures would serve a different market than restaurants, which cater to people who want to relax over their meals.
Food trucks appear to be increasing in popularity, a trend Portland got a taste of last weekend when the two finalists in the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” were filmed while competing in the Old Port.
“It’s the wave of the future,” said Kelly Irwin of Falmouth, noting she would like to operate a food truck in Portland.
A task force composed of restaurant owners, food truck vendors, councilors and downtown merchants first took up the issue of whether and where to allow food trucks to operate over the winter.
Prior to endorsing the regulations, committee members proposed increasing the after-hours permitting fee in the original measure from $60 to $200. The committee held out the possibility of adding amendments when the matter goes before the council, including requiring overnight vendors to meet with police to discuss safety concerns.
Marshall said he might suggest revisions to the fee schedule when it goes before the full council, suggesting that operators who have their trucks and equipment registered outside Portland should pay more to operate here.
One food truck vendor said she spends $4,000 to operate in Cape Elizabeth, but Portland’s daytime fee of $500 was chosen to recognize the daytime limitations, said Doug Fuss, owner of Bull Feeney’s and a task force member.
From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the peninsula, food trucks would largely be restricted to the Bayside neighborhood, West Commercial Street, the Eastern Promenade, Park Avenue and near the Ocean Gateway terminal. They would have to be at least 65 feet from commercial restaurants and lodging establishments.
The trucks would also be subject to city parking rules, which means they could stay in one location no longer than two hours.
“We’re trying to make them as successful as possible by reducing those fees because of those constraints,” Fuss said.
Off peninsula, food trucks would be allowed to operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. in several business and industrial zones, provided they are 200 feet from other food trucks or food establishments.
Food trucks would only be allowed in city parks through a competitive bidding process. They would be prohibited from residential zones, school grounds and residential neighborhoods.
In other business, City Manager Mark Rees said the city has narrowed its search for a new fire chief from 55 hopefuls to “four or five” candidates. Next Thursday, the candidates will meet with both a citizen and an employee panel, he said, and on Friday, they will be asked to explain how they would handle certain situations they might face on the job.
Rees says he will then narrow the field to a couple finalists to interview. He told the panel he would like to have a chief nominated within a month.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: