Portland is examining the possibility of creating a food truck court on the Eastern Promenade as a way to address concerns about excessive trash and pedestrian safety. Alexa Pappas hands sandwiches to Dave Johnson and his son, Max, from George’s North Shore food truck at the Eastern Prom in 2020. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Portland is looking at ways to better manage food trucks on the Eastern Promenade and address concerns about excessive trash and pedestrian safety, including one proposal that calls for the creation of a seasonal “food truck court.”

The proposed pilot program would create a designated area for food trucks between Turner and Congress streets on the Eastern Promenade and would eliminate parking on the non-park side of the street in that area. The plan also includes installing new in-ground trash receptacles and putting protections around tree root zones.

Harold and Marilyn McWilliams of Rockport sit on a bench at the Eastern Promenade after ordering roast beef sandwiches from George’s North Shore food truck in 2020. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I think this plan is a really good compromise that takes multiple perspectives into account,” said City Councilor Andrew Zarro, who chairs the council’s Sustainability & Transportation Committee, which voted unanimously in support of the proposal earlier this month. “It might not be perfect, but that’s why it’s a pilot. In six months we’ll revisit it. We’ll ask neighbors and food trucks and visitors, ‘What did you think?’”

The proposal and another option developed by city staff follow concerns that have arisen over the last two years around the increased presence of food trucks on the prom, many of them related to excessive amounts of trash and litter. “It’s just become so popular, it’s a victim of its own success,” Ethan Hipple, the director of Parks, Recreation & Facilities, told the committee last week. “It’s fantastic. We love it, but obviously we want to make some changes, too.”

The plans for food truck management on the prom don’t require council action, and can be approved by the city manager. Jessica Grondin, spokesperson for the city, said this week that Interim City Manager Danielle West hasn’t made a decision yet on a path forward but wanted to gather feedback from the sustainability committee as well as the council’s Housing & Economic Development Committee, which also was presented with the proposal but didn’t take any action on it.

Both committees discussed two staff recommendations for food truck management. The first option – the one the sustainability committee voted in favor of – reconfigures the space between Congress and Turner streets to accommodate the trucks and would eliminate parking on the non-park side of that block, helping to alleviate concerns about children and adults darting into traffic to get to their vehicles across the street and giving the trucks more room to come off the curb.

“We consider it to be a fairly bold option,” Parks Director Alex Marshall told the committee March 23. “This is a pretty neat proposal that transforms this little section of the street. … We would create kind of a food truck court in this space. It would be very much a pilot program and could be reversible and also seasonal.”

COURT WOULD OPERATE SEASONALLY

The food truck court would operate from April 15 to Oct. 15, though Grondin said that if that option is selected it probably wouldn’t be implemented until after April 15 this year. After Oct. 15, the street would revert to its original configuration for winter operations and the original food truck rules and on-street parking would be in effect.

Space in the court would be limited to seven food truck spaces and no other trucks would be allowed within the bounds of the Eastern Prom at the same time. A new license fee of $5,000 would be introduced for those spots to help cover costs and adjustments such as trash, the change to the travel lanes and eventually electricity that the city hopes to be able to provide.

A lottery or solicitation of interest would be held for the seven spaces to determine which food trucks would get access. The trucks could also create mini “parklets” between themselves with tables and seating.

Food truck licenses come up for renewal each year on March 31 and as of Tuesday there were 10 licenses approved and another 71 in review for the upcoming year. According to the current food truck rules, food trucks generally can operate between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the Eastern Prom between Washington Avenue and Cutter Street. Two food trucks total may also operate at one time in parking spaces either on upper Cutter Street or in the upper parking lot on Cutter Street.

The second option the committees looked at included alternate plans to put food trucks between Quebec and Turner streets, rather than Turner and Congress, that would have maintained parking on the non-park side of the road, or to put some or all of the trucks into the middle Cutter Street parking lot.

All of the options include plans to put in place new 300-gallon in-ground trash receptacles that would only need to be emptied once or twice per week and that are being paid for with American Rescue Plan Act funds.

CONCERNS ABOUT LOSS OF PARKING

Eastern Prom resident David Crosby, who has lived in the area for 12 years, doesn’t like the idea of losing parking spots on the prom to food trucks when they could be utilized by families coming to visit the park playground. He said he’s not opposed to having food trucks in the area, but would like to see the city choose an option that doesn’t result in a loss of parking.

“In the summer, there’s not enough parking already for the people who want to bring their kids to play on the playground,” Crosby said. “Now we’re just going to make that problem worse so some people can make money.”

The sustainability committee heard over an hour of public comment on the proposals, including from other neighbors and from food truck operators. Several people complained about a lack of parking and also expressed concerns about food trucks contributing to noise and pollution. Others said the presence of food trucks on the prom have provided a welcome source of community during the coronavirus pandemic and they’re eager to keep supporting them.

“I think it’s a great spot for the public to gather, and seeing the life it brought to my neighborhood was just inspiring, especially through the pandemic,” resident Dave Aceto said. “It was kind of the place to go to see people you haven’t seen in a year and a half, and I think the food trucks were an important part of that.”

Mitch Newlin, general manager and employee owner at Brunswick-based Gelato Fiasco, supports the food truck court idea as well as plans for the trucks to be more environmentally friendly. “We actually operated on the prom every day, seven days per week, last summer, and it was great to be part of the community and see people getting outside and enjoying themselves,” Newlin said.

He understands the concerns that have come up around trash, noisy generators and emissions, and would be willing to pay for city-provided electricity so that trucks could stop using generators. Newlin also understands the need for the license fee.

“I think it makes sense to say, ‘Hey, you all are benefiting from this profitability-wise, why don’t you help pay for it?,” Newlin said. “I think we’re on board as a company to say, ‘If we’re in a spot allowing us to make money we also want to give back to the community that’s allowing us to do that.”


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