The Portland Phoenix

Lottery will pick food trucks for coveted spots on Portland’s Eastern Prom

Eastern Prom food trucks

Food trucks that have parked on Portland's Eastern Promenade will soon have to move to a lower parking lot away from the busy street at the top of the popular public park. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

More than a dozen food trucks applied for 10 permits to operate this summer on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, which means the city will hold a lottery next week to decide which ones are allowed to do business in the popular park.

The permit application deadline expired Monday as people continued to sign an online petition urging the city to make sure locally owned food trucks and those that have been there regularly for several years aren’t pushed off the prom. The petition had more than 4,200 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

According to a city spokesperson, 14 businesses applied for the 10 spots to be allotted in a Cutter Street parking lot. City officials said the lottery would be held June 1 at 9 a.m. to decide who gets the coveted real estate.

Applicants are On A Roll, Bogs Bakery, Mr. Tuna, Falafel Mafia, George’s North Shore, Gelato Fiasco,  Eighty 8 Donuts, Vy Banh Mi,  Cheese the Day, Tacos La Poblanita, Cargo Pizza Company, Twist, Maine Maple Creemee, and Cafe La Mega.

The petition drive was launched after interim City Manager Danielle West’s May 2 decision to move the trucks by June 15 to the parking lot below the Eastern Promenade that has historically been used to park boat trailers near the East End Beach boat launch.

West’s decision, which did not require the City Council’s approval, was described as a pilot effort that will be evaluated after Oct. 15. It came in response to complaints from nearby property owners and residents about noise, odor, and pollution blamed on the trucks.

There is no charge for permits this year.  City Hall spokesperson Jessica Grondin said everyone who has applied operates a Portland-based business that was licensed by the city last year.

“I think what we’d like to stress is that this is a pilot project, so by the very nature of the name, it is a trial run and that means that we will evaluate how things run and make changes if necessary,” Grondin said.

The petition expresses concern that the 10-truck limit West placed on Cutter Street means trucks from outside Portland could squeeze out Portland-based trucks, and that trucks that have done business on the promenade for several years could be excluded by a lottery.

“We worry the quality of the businesses that may be randomly chosen will diminish the value of the Eastern Prom park and the viability of the food truck park,” the petition says. “The trucks who made this spot a destination should not be excluded from the community they have created.”

It continues, “If the city is going to limit the number of trucks, do not have trucks be chosen by lottery alone. Let the trucks that have based their businesses on this location for 3+ years be allowed to decide if they would like a spot in the new food truck park lot, before the lottery is drawn.”

Food trucks are allowed to operate year-round, although only a few are on the Eastern Promenade in the winter. In the summer and fall, however, as many as 15 trucks can be found on the street that runs along the public park.

“As local citizens, we are deeply concerned about the small Portland-based companies who have built their businesses and livelihoods at this location,” the petition reads. “We fear that a lottery will exclude the businesses whose food has made Portland into New England’s premier food truck scene. We worry that these changes will impact their ability to (hire) locals to whom they pay living wages.”

It adds “This is not just a matter of ‘go park somewhere else.’ Portland has extremely tight restrictions on where they allow food trucks to park and the trucks that are there every day rely on the business opportunity that the Prom offers.”

An alternative to Cutter Street not chosen by West would have changed the traffic flow and parking on the Eastern Promenade. It would have eliminated on-street parking on the west side of the street and shifted the traffic lanes into that space to give the trucks and their customers more room on the east side.

It also would have included making electrical power available for the trucks that now rely on generators. City staff said doing so would have been easier than routing power down to the Cutter Street parking area.

The city will also install several in-ground 300-gallon trash containers to replace existing 20- and 30-gallon cans, which have generated complaints about overflowing trash. The containers are being paid for with American Rescue Plan Act funds and would have been installed regardless of where the food trucks operate.

Updated May 26 after Portland City Hall said there was a 14th food truck permit application, and that the Cutter Street lottery would be held June 1.

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