Oct. 6—By next spring, downtown Biddeford could become a new hot spot for food trucks.
The city has just taken a major step to clear the way for a proposed mobile food court on a vacant lot at the corner of Alfred and Pool streets. It would be the first dedicated spot for food trucks and mobile carts to set up in Biddeford.
The proposal for a central location where food trucks and mobile carts could gather has appealed to city leaders from the start, but the zoning ordinance didn't provide any guidance about how to regulate one.
After months of discussion by several city committees, the City Council on Tuesday voted in favor of adding language to the city ordinance that will allow mobile food courts in the downtown and mill districts.
Steve Liautaud, who worked in the restaurant industry for 30 years before moving to Maine, approached the city last spring about his idea to transform the lot downtown, which has been vacant since the building that had been there was destroyed by fire in 2006.
Liautaud is working with an architect and landscape architect to finalize plans, which still need to go to the planning department for site plan review. Liautaud sees the location, which is passed by people driving toward Main Street on Alfred Street, as the gateway to downtown Biddeford. He says it is the perfect spot to create an upscale outdoor venue that will tap into local enthusiasm for food trucks and bring more people downtown.
"It's small enough that it will create some intimacy ... but big enough to have a variety of concepts to choose from," he said.
If approved, the food court would feature a rotating lineup of five food trucks and carts situated around a central dining area covered by a canopy. A small brick building would house a "low-impact food concept," Liautaud said, perhaps focused on charcuterie, banh mi or a raw bar. There also would be restrooms.
Food truck operators would set up each day in a pod that would provide them with power, water, gray water and an oil dump. To meet Biddeford's parking requirements for restaurants, food court employees would park in spaces Liautaud has secured at Paul's Variety.
Liautaud would like to operate the food court from May 1 to Halloween. He's also talked about creating a seasonal experience on the lot over the winter holidays.
Mathew Eddy, the city's planning and development director, said the City Council still needs to finalize an easement for access to the lot, but that vote will occur after the design is approved. The lot is only accessible through two city-owned parking lots behind the lot, and the city needs to grant permission for trucks to enter at that point. It is not feasible to do curb cuts at the intersection of Alfred and Pool streets to create an entrance for vehicles.
Discussions about this project made it clear that the city's zoning ordinances need to be updated further so they make more sense and reflect what's going on in the food truck industry, Eddy said. The city's regulations for food trucks and carts were developed long ago for mobile canteen trucks that pulled up outside of the mills to feed workers, and were tweaked in recent years for ice cream trucks that move throughout the city. More updates are likely to happen, Eddy said, when the city begins a more thorough zoning ordinance rewrite next year.