Food trucks are allowed in Great Falls, city has fielded few requests

Since we reported that PurpleGold, a acai bowl and waffle food bus, was coming to the city this summer, some readers had questions about the food truck rules in Great Falls.

“The zoning code is silent on food trucks,” said Tom Micuda, deputy planning director at the City of Great Falls.

Until the city determines it wants a food truck ordinance, “we’ve allowed them to operate,” in three different scenarios, Micuda said.
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Primarily, food trucks have operated at community events such as the farmer’s market, Music on the Mo, and more.

As long as a food truck vendor has permission from the event organizer and approvals from the health department, it’s fine by the city, Micuda said.

The city worked with the local Building Active Communities Initiative group in 2017 in an attempt to create Food Truck Fridays for the summer with limited success since food truck vendors were, in large part, unwilling to participate without the guarantee of crowds.
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The city also allows food trucks to set up on public streets, in parking spaces, and essentially treats it as an event. Micuda said a vendor would need to check with city planning and the city manager’s office and would just be required to cover the cost of bagging the meter for the time the space is used if it’s a metered spot downtown.

That scenario also requires the vendor to have the appropriate health department approvals.

According to the Cascade County City-County Health Department, mobile food service units can get a state licence that allows them to travel anywhere in Montana to operate if they do so without a commissary.
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They must be able to take on potable water and dispose of wastewater in an approved manner, according to CCHD. They’re allowed to operate year-round, if feasible.

“City-County Health Department requires moving daily to service their mobile unit to ensure that enough water will be available for operating in a safe, sanitary manner. If not moved daily, the mobile units are considered permanent and the on-board wastewater holding tanks in permanent facilities are in violation of Cascade County wastewater regulations.”

Mobile food service guidelines from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services are available here.

Food trucks are also allowed to operate on private property in the C-2 and C-3 commercial districts, as well as M-2 mixed use transitional, with a temporary use permit for itinerant outdoor sales.

The itinerant sales permit is what fireworks and Christmas tree vendors use. Those uses are only allowed around those holidays.

For a food vendor, the permit would limit use to no more than five days monthly on a given parcel of land or more than 20 times per year.
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The permit also requires removal and cleanup within 48 hours and the premises hosting the itinerant vendor must have access to a collector street or a higher street classification, according to the code.

In that case, a food truck needs permission from the property owner and, again, health department approval.
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Micuda said he’s never fielded a request for an itinerant food vendor since he started at the city in 2016.

A scenario that hasn’t yet come up, Micuda said, is a food truck that wants to move around parking spaces downtown within the two-hour limit at each spot.

The code also doesn’t provide guidance for a food truck that wanted a semi-permanent spot on private property downtown.

In 2010, a vendor wanted to operate a one-day per week operation on a vacant private property in the city. The city’s interpretation at that time was that was not allowed under the existing code.

Currently, if there was a request for a larger-scale food truck event, to include 5 to 10 or more trucks, on private or public property/streets, Micuda said the city would likely address that as an event.

“If the event leads to unanticipated consequences, the city would try to address those consequences in the evaluation of future requests-while still supporting the idea,” Micuda said.

Despite the BACI effort to establish a food truck event, it hasn’t happened yet. In 2017, the group reached out to about 30 food truck/cart vendors that were operating in the area at the time. One or two came to their event in Davidson Plaza that summer.

Micuda says staff discusses food trucks internally quite a bit, but since the requests from vendors are infrequent, they haven’t initiated changes to the code pertaining to food trucks.

“If someone contacts us, it’s how can we make this work. But these issues just haven’t really arisen yet,” Micuda said.