Ian Brown of South Portland orders food at the Falafel Mafia food truck in the Cutter Street parking lot on the Eastern Prom last month. A pilot program moved the trucks from the top of the prom down to this middle parking lot along Cutter Street. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland city councilors on Tuesday heard feedback both for and against proposed changes to the city’s food truck program on the heavily trafficked and popular Eastern Promenade.

The council also heard from staff about their proposed plans for next season, which include reducing the number of spots available to trucks in the Eastern Prom’s Cutter Street middle parking lot from 14 to seven and implementing a new $3,900 fee for trucks to operate in the park on a first-come first-served basis.

“This is a big issue,” said Ethan Hipple, the city’s director of parks, recreation and facilities. “Some people have questioned whether the time and attention spent on this is warranted, but I think it is. I think it’s important for the city as we grapple with how to best use our public spaces that we all share.”

Interim City Manager Danielle West is expected to issue a decision on the future of the program in December.

More than a dozen people offered feedback to the council’s sustainability and transportation, and housing and economic development committees.

“I’m in favor of having the food trucks in the Cutter Street lot,” Julia Kirby said. “I think it’s a really good proposal. I’m not in favor of having them up on the Eastern Prom roadway.”


Resident Karen Snyder, who said she lives a few blocks from the prom, agreed. “I’m in favor of the food trucks, if they have to be on the prom, on Cutter Street and not on the Eastern Prom roadway,” said Snyder, adding that she also supports another suggestion from staff that the city’s Amethyst Lot on the eastern waterfront also be looked at as a food truck destination.

Snyder said she was disheartened to see how contentious the Eastern Prom food truck issue has become, and she said parks should not be a destination for businesses. “The public park system was originally designed to allow a safe space for people to enjoy either nature or community-oriented recreational events,” Snyder said.

Food truck operators, meanwhile, expressed frustration with the plans. Dylan Gardner is co-owner of the Falafel Mafia food truck and said he has been operating on the prom for the last five years, including this past summer in the Cutter Street lot.

“Trucks cannot pay license fees without a guaranteed spot to operate,” Gardner said, adding that there will be “daily drama” with food trucks arguing over spots if there are unlimited licenses issued but only seven spots.

He suggested the city prioritize trucks that operated the most in the Cutter Street lot during this year’s pilot program, and allow them the first opportunity to buy licenses and operate in the park. “I know this was the best solution, but if (the city) had communicated with food trucks first, we could have let you know there are huge implications,” Gardner said.

Patrick Robinson sympathized with Gardner and other food truck operators, and he said the plans would hurt their small businesses. “I just think putting them down to the bottom of the hill will be really detrimental to them and their business in the long-term, and it’s one of the best things about the city,” Robinson said. “People are going to come disappointed to the city when those trucks are not on the hill.”

Though the council committees met jointly Tuesday to discuss the proposals and hear from the public, the council won’t vote on next year’s plans. The city’s parks commission also will meet, on Dec. 1, to hear from staff about the proposal and take public comment before West is expected to issue a decision.

“Any council member or anyone in the public who wants to send me input or ideas, please feel free to do so,” West said.

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