Council members discuss future of food trucks in downtown

By Sean C. Morgan

Lebanon Local

The Lebanon City Council will consider an ordinance regulating food truck pods in anticipation of two potential operators.

Kelly Hart, the city’s new community development director, told the council during its regular meeting Wednesday, Aug. 14, that the city had been approached by two potential food truck pod operators with proposals to operate at the intersections of 3rd and Sherman streets and Park and Sherman streets.

Food truck pods are two or more food trucks gathered at the same site.

Based on the increased interest in them, she said, staff requested direction from the council on whether to continue permitting food trucks and if so, to recommend developing an ordinance to establish minimum standards for operation.

She said the industry has been growing for a number of years. At its inception, it had minimal regulation, with the original food truck pods generally operated as a row of trucks lined up in close proximity and designed for quick transactions with customers leaving the area to consume their food.

As the industry has grown, Hart said, the operating characteristics have changed, providing different atmospheres around the food pods. For example, they may provide seating areas for customers or sell alcohol for on-site consumption.

Several cities have regulated food truck pods, establishing minimum standards of operation, Hart said.

Lebanon has four food trucks currently operating, Hart said. They operate under a six-month temporary use permit with no regulations about the level of site improvements. Three of them are located on paved property, while one is on gravel.

At this point, a food truck pod would require each individual truck to obtain a temporary use permit, she said.

Hart outlined three levels of regulation the council could impose.

The first is the most basic, with fully mobile food trucks without site improvements or seating areas. Direct sales would be permitted on public right-of-way, allowing market demand to regulate the trucks.

At the second level, the trucks remain fully mobile, but lots would be partially improved, with seating areas available and sales occurring on the lot, with a restroom available nearby.

At the third level, trucks are mainly stationary on fully improved lots, with seating areas, lighting, a building or enclosure for use during inclement weather and on-site restrooms.

The basic level would be the status quo, Hart said, although she suggested extending the length of the temporary use permit.

Councilor Karin Stauder said she would like to see limited requirements, such as trash pick-up, in between the first and second levels.

“In reviewing all the different food pod regulations from the different cities, the big things are utility connections, access and trash,” Hart said. “If we just wanted to truly leave it up to the market, but at least make sure we weren’t creating a nuisance, those would be the three things we would focus on.”

“I kind of like the second plan and third,” said Mayor Paul Aziz. “The first one just seems crazy. It just seems crazy – no regulations, no fire codes. I mean there’s fire codes, but there’s nothing specific called out.

“To me, it seems like that second one is where we can then define some of the things that we want to see. I don’t want to see it in a dirt lot with people walking through it, can’t get in, it’s not accessible, trash, things like that.”

“I’m not a fan of the government dictating how a business will run,” said Councilor Rebecca Grizzle. “If a food pod did a number two or number three, they’re more likely to be successful, but that’s not our position to dictate that.”

Councilor Jason Bolen noted there’s already “plenty” of government regulations on businesses, adding that there are some inherent issues relating to food trucks.

“If you’re familiar with cart pod operations, you’re going to see some real problems pick up. I think the site improvement or lack thereof is the No. 1 big problem. These carts use fuel. They use water. Which means they need to fill fuel. They need to somehow dump water and get fresh water. That typically means if there’s no on-site connections, they’re typically leaving the site and coming back.”

He pointed to the grass lot outside the Santiam Travel Station where the council meets and where a food truck pod is proposed at the corner of 3rd and Sherman streets. He said trailers going into and out of that site during the winter will drag dirt and sod onto the street and the conditions it would create on the lot will impact pedestrians.

“Without services or connections, there may be a propensity to pull the handle and dump the tank at night right there on the lot,” Bolen said. “And there’s your wastewater on site. Things like trash and vector control becomes an issue, rodents, critters. There are a lot of things to consider. I’m not for over-regulation either, but I’m for responsible regulation that’s going to create a more aesthetically pleasing and maybe a more efficient and productive commercial zone or food zone for our citizens and visitors.”

Grizzle said she agreed regarding the public health, safety and access issues.

“Anything else that is aesthetic or something like, ‘we’d really like to see an enclosed building’ – well, who wouldn’t?” Grizzle said. “But that kind of thing, for me, I think we overstep our bounds.”

Bolen said the city requires aesthetics anyway, like landscaping and trees.

Councilor Michelle Steinhebel said she supported a list of requirements that would be covered at the second level, including ADA access, spacing, trash receptacles, parking, lighting, restrooms, seating and utilities.

Stauder said she would be caught up on a requirement for seating. Rather, Aziz and Bolen said, restrooms could be required if there is seating.

“I think at least some sort of site improvement needs to be there,” Bolen said. “Otherwise, we’re going to have these dusty, muddy, dirty, gross – to me – areas for food sales. It’s not conducive to cleanliness. It’s not conducive to what we would want in that commercial zone in that downtown area.”

Bolen said he would like to see health inspection certificates on display.

Also, he said, the state is preparing new fire regulations on food trucks, and he thinks Lebanon should “get ahead of the game” and address those immediately, including things like installing, testing and maintaining hood systems.

Hart said she will draft an ordinance for council consideration at a future meeting.

Present at the meeting were Aziz and councilors Wayne Rieskamp, Grizzle, Steinhebel, Bolen and Stauder. Robert Furlow was absent.

In other business, the council:

♦ During a work session, learned that City Hall is not ADA-compliant and has structural, operational and energy code deficiencies. Among issues, a City Hall deficiency report indicated that the building was not sound in winds of 40 mph or more and the ventilation and heating system is not working efficiently. The report recommended building a new City Hall with at least 14,000 square feet and 30 to 40 parking spaces.

Possible locations include the current site, the old Water Treatment Plant site and at Academy Square. Councilors said they preferred the Academy Square site because of its proximity to other civic buildings.

The report did not include any cost estimates. City Manager Gary Marks said one of the next steps is a financial analysis, and the area may be designated officially by the council as future City Hall space as part of a facilities master plan in October.

♦ Updated its fee schedule following a public hearing.

♦ Remanded an appeal of a Planning Commission approval for a 36-unit apartment complex to the Planning Commission at the request of the applicant.

The 6.5-acre property is located at the end of 12th Street with secondary access at the end of Leonard Avenue south of Kees Street. Opponents of the development were concerned primarily about traffic issues but also were concerned about drainage, wildlife and the loss of open space and emergency vehicle access.

Matt Johnson of Studio 3 Architects, the applicant, said the developers have heard the concerns in the community and reconfigured the project. As a result, they wanted the Planning Commission to review it again.

♦ Approved updates to the city’s policy on public records to comply with a new state law.

♦ As the North Gateway Urban Renewal District board, approved the refund of $116,000 to Samaritan Health Services to cover the cost of building fees and systems development charges for the construction of the Samaritan Treatment and Recovery Services Building. Samaritan has already paid the fees to the city.

♦ Approved a five-year agreement with AFSCME-represented city employees. The group does not include police employees or management.

Under the agreement, employees will receive 2.5 percent salary increases retroactive to July 1. On July 1, 2020, they will receive a raise of $1 per hour. In each of the three subsequent years, they will receive raises based on the Consumer Price Index-W of not less than 1 percent nor more than 3 percent.

♦ Asked staff to develop rules that would allow two potential developments to move forward within the area of a building moratorium. In one case, a sale was already in progress of property adjacent to Oregon State Credit Union, which is selling the property for use as an urgent care, and an affordable housing project near Walmart had been gathering funding to begin construction. Representatives of both told the council how the moratorium was affecting their projects.

“They were ready to go,” Aziz said. “We shouldn’t be stopping them.”

If the council does take action, it’s something that needs to apply to the whole community, said City Manager Gary Marks.

“It can’t be discretionary,” said City Attorney Tre Kennedy. “It has to be a bright-line rule.”