City Leaders Chew on Possibility Food Carts, Pods in Canby

After years of banning food trucks in city limits with the exception of temporary events, Canby officials are chewing on the possibility of allowing food carts and pods to operate in the city.

Hashtag finally?

Before you get too excited, what’s happening is a joint work session Wednesday between the Canby City Council and Planning Commission. It could be months before a new policy is drafted and approved — if officials even give the go-ahead to do so.

Much like a pod of whales, a pod is a collection of food carts clustered on the same property, often with shared facilities such as restrooms and handwashing stations, seating and weather protection, trash and recycling.

While Canby currently allows food carts only through a temporary vendor permit process, pods are not addressed in the city code at all.

City staff say they were prompted to bring the issue before city leaders “in response to increased community interest” and have toured food cart pods in other cities where they have become increasingly prevalent and popular, like Oregon City’s Corner 14 — a busy lot featuring a dozen vendors that opened earlier this year.

“Food carts are a way for small and local businesses to reach customers directly, with low overhead and more flexibility than opening a brick and mortar restaurant,” Canby Associate Planner Brianna Addotta explained in a staff report.

“They can also add interest, vibrancy and activity to an area, and provide increased and more diverse access in areas underserved by traditional restaurants. … Balancing regulations and permitting procedures can help ensure mobile food vending opportunities are present without posing a threat to traditional restaurants, interfering with the right-of-way, or creating a nuisance.”

The city’s current temporary vendor process allows sales or services from a vehicle, tent or other temporary structure for up to 90 days (with the option of renewing for an additional 90 days).

Despite the proliferation of food trucks throughout the Portland metro area, the City of Canby has not received a temporary vendor application from a mobile food vendor in over three years.

“We have learned the restrictions placed on temporary vendor permits make them largely impractical for food cart operators who, if successful in their location, would like to stay for a longer period of time,” Adotta explained.

City staff recommends implementing a new type of temporary vendor permit that caters more specifically to mobile food units — and the needs they have that may be very different than other vendors.

This would follow the leads of other cities in Clackamas County such as Milwaukie, which passed a new “Mobile Food Carts on Private Property” permit process in 2019.

Staff also point out that food cart pods can be a good “interim use” for properties before they can be fully developed to their highest and best commercial use.

“Pods offer property owners an option to develop in a limited capacity in order to see a short-term return on their investment, while at the same time, providing space for business incubation, community gathering, and culinary adventure,” Adotta wrote.

Pods are also a great way to reflect community values and interests, she pointed out, in which patrons essentially help decide which carts they value by voting with their purchases.

Successful carts often “graduate” to a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the community where they already have relationships with their patrons and the city, Adotta said.

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