Seattle Met recently highlighted a couple of new food truck hubs coming to Capitol Hill and Downtown. Both come on the heels of Council and the Mayor approving new rules for more creative – and tasty – uses of empty lots. Property owners with stalled development sites can invite in food trucks, art installations, open space, even some parking as long as they had a project on the boards that stalled and don’t tear down anything now to make the space. We’ve seen one art project, “Sail Away,” start to gain steam for 5th and Columbia. Now, food truck assemblies for 2nd and Pine Downtown (lunch and dinner shifts) and Harvard and Pike on Capitol Hill (evenings on the old BMW lot).
The mini food pods ring like mini echoes of Portland’s bigger food pod scene on private lots. Many of us have wondered why food pods haven’t grown in Seattle. Maybe Seattle’s real estate pressures are more intense. Maybe we just haven’t opened the door before now. Unlike Portland’s pod model, trucks at these two new sites will migrate to other locations or back to their commissaries at the end of each day.
Pods are popping while the Council digs into a steaming stack of proposed changes for sidewalk and parking regulations intended to foster a greater number and diversity of cart- and truck-based food vendors. Feedback has been generally positive from people who want to see more and more variety of food out and about from trucks and carts. There are a few strong concerns being raised from small business owners who see use of public right-of-way as an unfair competitive edge, especially if we let trucks use parking slots in already parked-up neighborhoods. Bricks-and-mortar restaurant owners have testified that trucks and carts gain an advantage by not paying competitive rent or utilities. Additionally, they don’t want a competitor parked outside their door for a chunk of the day. I can see their point.
We’ve had two meetings in committee to get the gist of the proposal and begin to slice and dice the potential permit regulations and enforcement. I think we’ll have at least two more committee sessions to work through issues about whether to allow using parking spaces for trucks, setbacks for carts and trucks from existing businesses, hours of operation, permit fee levels and how to build in incentives for healthy food options.
Overall, while I hear the concerns from bricks-and-mortar restaurants, I think more street food is a good idea. I agree we need to review the proposed regulations carefully to make sure we get positive sidewalk additions rather than what one person described as “just a million falafel stands.” Don’t get me wrong – I love falafel. The goal, though, is a variety of food options and great neighborhood street life at the same time.