Our View: Food on the go

At issue

The city is amending its codes to make it easier for food carts to open and operate in Steamboat.

Our view

We applaud these changes and encourage the city to go a step further by allowing food carts on public property, too.

The popularity of food trucks has exploded in recent years, and these mini restaurants on wheels have been popping up all over, especially in urban areas. Mobile food carts and trucks become gourmet grab-and-go hot spots that appeal to people looking for a good meal that’s fast, tasty and a little cheaper fare than what’s offered in more traditional, sit-down establishments.

In Steamboat Springs, the food truck concept hasn’t taken off as quickly as in other areas of the country, and one local restaurant owner thinks that’s because current ordinances make it too difficult and too expensive to offer the option to local foodies. In a recent Steamboat Today article, Cynthia Pougiales spoke about the challenges she has faced to get her mobile food cart concept, Wagon Ago-go, going in Steamboat.

In response to concerns voiced by Pougiales and others, the city began looking at amending its community development code to create a new mobile food ordinance, and we applaud the Planning Commission and Steamboat Springs City Council for considering ways to make the process of opening a food truck or cart in Steamboat a little easier.

In our opinion, food trucks don’t compete with traditional restaurants but enhance Steamboat’s growing reputation as a culinary destination. They have the potential to complement downtown’s quaintness and its easygoing ambiance by offering visitors and locals even more epicurean options.

The new mobile food unit ordinance was approved on first reading by the council Tuesday night. Under the amended ordinance, food carts are referred to as “mobile food units” and defined as “a readily movable wheeled push cart, motorized-wheeled vehicle or towed-wheeled vehicle all of which are designed and equipped to serve prepared food or prepare and serve food for immediate consumption.”

The new ordinance also requires that food carts must be permitted by the city, must serve walk-up customers only, must be located on a paved or all-weather surface and cannot obstruct the public way or create a traffic hazard. Food cart operators also must obtain all permits and approvals required by the Routt County Department of Public Health, and the hours of operation shall be from sunrise to sunset. In our estimation, these are all reasonable regulations that should not deter someone from operating a food truck.

Another significant change to the mobile food ordinance that we view as positive is a reduced cost and time to secure a permit. Under the proposed changes passed by the City Council on Tuesday, permit fees would decrease from $500 to $50 and the permitting time would drop from two months to just a few days.

Currently, food trucks are not allowed on public property and must operate from private property, and we think that restriction needs to be amended. This change is not reflected in the amended ordinance, so we’d suggest an additional change in the code to allow food trucks to set up on public property. This concession would be accompanied by a fair and reasonable fee structure that is not cost-prohibitive but that carefully weighs the costs of operating a brick-and-mortar business against a less expensive food truck to maintain a level playing field for both types of operations.

With that in mind, we envision food trucks fitting in perfectly with the long-term plans for Yampa Street revitalization. They would increase food options, draw more visitors downtown and would complement the effort to convert the street into a more pedestrian-friendly venue. Food carts also often serve as business incubators, giving individuals an opportunity to test the waters before making a larger investment in a local storefront business.

We’re glad the council has taken the first steps to make it easier for food trucks to operate in Steamboat, and we think the proposed changes, with a tweak to allow food trucks to operate on public property with a fee, deserve council’s final approval.

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