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City councilors taking steps to update regulations to allow for food cart pods

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - A row of food trucks serve customers visiting the Columbia County Fair & Rodeo in St. Helens. Scappoose could soon be host to a food cart pod, pending new regulations and updates to the citys code. Scappoose may be the next city to develop a food cart pod.

During a workshop Monday evening, July 16, city councilors hashed out restrictions and specifications they'd like to see for new codes that would allow food trucks to operate in a designated area.

While food truck and food cart pods have become a staple in the Portland dining landscape, they've taken longer to catch on in suburban and rural areas.

Monday's discussion came more than four years after a food truck set up shop along a roadside in Scappoose in 2014, but was asked to leave by city officials a few months later.

At the time, the city allowed the food vendor to stay temporarily, granting a 90-day permit, but notified the truck's owner he'd have to leave after the temporary permit was up. The city also noted complaints from neighboring business owners about lack of designated parking, noise, and lack of restroom facility for the temporary food truck, saying the truck's customers asked to use the bathroom at nearby businesses.

"When you read that code, it's not for food carts," Mayor Scott Burge noted.

Currently, city code in Scappoose allows for a temporary fireworks or farm stands, but not much else for roadside or truck-based vendors.

City staff said Monday they've received calls and inquiries about Scappoose food cart regulations, and even received a call earlier that day.

"Even today, we were contacted about what are the food cart regulations, and what do we offer?" said Garett Peterson, an assistant working with the city temporarily through a Resource Assistance for Rural Environments AmeriCorps program. "We just had nothing to say, so it would be good for the city of Scappoose to formulate something."

Councilors say they'd like to see food carts in the city, but would prefer a clean, organized looking pod, similar to what the cities of Milwaukie and Happy Valley have.

"I have serious concerns about sanitation and temporary permitting," Burge said, adding concerns about allowing little to no parking or restroom accommodations, in comparison to what brick-and-mortar restaurants have to provide. "It's not fair for someone who has to build a parking lot for his restaurant, versus someone that could just come in and park in the grass or the gravel."

Peterson said food cart pods can create a "more lively community or walking district," which is something the city is currently exploring through a National Main Street program.

City staff and councilors also noted many food trucks serve as "incubators" for businesses owners who are able to start small, earn capital, then open a sit-down restaurant.

"I just think this is a great opportunity for small businesses, also affordable commercial space ... for those that had a dream of starting a restaurant," Councilor Patrick Kessi said.

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