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Cortez considers allowing food trucks in business district

Ernie Padilla poses in front of his food truck, The Wigglin’ Pig in this archived photo. A proposed ordinance would allow food trucks to set up in the Cortez Central Business District. (Journal file)
Plan calls for permit for a 90-day stay; special events also permitted

The city of Cortez is considering new regulations in the land use code to allow mobile food trucks in the Central Business District.

Food trucks are generally allowed in all the city’s zoned districts except for the Central Business District.

The downtown district encompasses an eight-block area bordered by North Street on the north, First Street to the south, Harrison Street to the east and Linden Street to the west.

The City Council heard a first reading of proposed ordinance to expand food truck use downtown at its regular meeting Oct. 11.

It would amend the land use code to allow food trucks to set up in the Central Business District on public or private property for up to 90 days in one location with a conditional use permit.

The code change also would allow food trucks to operate in the Central Business District during approved temporary special events, such as the Cortez Farmers Market.

Conditional use permits for the longer terms downtown would consider impacts on adjacent businesses, town officials said.

The permit applications go through planning department review, neighbors are notified, and public hearings are held in front of City Council.

The proposed regulation states food truck vendors in the Central Business District shall be allowed in approved locations only and never in a right of way of state or public roads, unless closed for approved special events.

There has been heightened interest in allowing food trucks at the Farmers Market. Food trucks have not been allowed at the market because its location next to the county administration building is within the Central Business District, said Cortez Planner Nancy Dosdall. The Farmers Market would qualify under the special event food truck permit.

The conditional use permit system could be used to facilitate a food truck court on a vacant lot in the downtown area, officials said.

After discussing the proposal Oct. 11, City Council decided to continue the matter to a workshop Oct. 25. A first reading will be rescheduled.

The workshop allows for time to iron out details, including whether the number of days a conditional permit would allow a food truck to set up in the Central Business District should be longer.

The Cortez Central Business District in Cortez prohibits food trucks. A proposed ordinance would allow them through a regulated permit process. The pink areas are outside the Central Business District.

The Cortez Planning Commission has reviewed the proposed changes to the food truck regulations and recommended approval.

Public input gathered

At the request of the City Council, the Planning Department initiated a public process this summer and fall to reconsider the prohibition of food trucks in the Central Business District.

The city held a public forum, conducted a survey with 372 participants and met with food truck vendors and downtown businesses to address the idea.

As the process generated community feedback and discussion, most were in support of food trucks in general, including for the downtown district, said Dosdall.

However, downtown businesses expressed that they did not want the food trucks to interfere with street parking or rights of way needed for their customers.

Targeted outreach to downtown business owners on the issue also showed that increased competition from food trucks downtown is a concern for brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Food trucks, such as Kelly's Kitchen, could set up in downtown Cortez according to a proposed ordinance. (Courtesy Kelly's Kitchen)

Town officials said the conditional use permit process could be an effective tool to address and mitigate potential issues.

“We held public hearings and public outreach and have come up with a compromise that would address public desire for food trucks downtown, but also protect the businesses,” Dosdall said.

The permits could outline parameters for food trucks in the business district. For example, they could specify food truck distances from existing restaurants, days and hours of operations or require permission from restaurants within a specified distance.

Incidentally, food trucks are allowed at Third Thursday events in Montezuma Park because it is just outside the boundaries of the Central Business District.

Current regulations

All food trucks must comply with the existing “mobile food vendor” section of the land use code, which includes holding a sales tax license and complying with Montezuma County Health Department regulations for food service.

If set up on private property, they must have written permission from the owner. They may operate in a legal public parking space provided they comply with parking restrictions. They are not allowed to operate on city property regardless of zone district unless authorization is provided elsewhere in the code or by city manager.

Current regulations limit food truck hours to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and they must be removed from the location when not open for business.