Seattle looks to make food truck outdoor dining regulation permanent

Aug 23, 2022, 1:30 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2022, 9:37 am
(Photo by: Bernard Friel/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)...
(Photo by: Bernard Friel/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(Photo by: Bernard Friel/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

With the pandemic having sweeping changes on restaurants with no one eating inside, and just fewer people going out to eat in general, the city of Seattle instituted a series of regulation changes to provide a life preserver to restaurants by making it easier to get permits for outdoor dining and food truck permits. Now the city is looking at ways to make those changes permanent.

In 2011, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a law that allowed food trucks to operate on city streets. Prior to that, food vending was only permitted on private, off-street lots. The new rules came with a slew of regulations to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants, including that food trucks could not operate within 50 feet of any permanent food service locations and two food trucks could not operate at the same time on the same block.

Other restrictions complicated business for food truck vendors, like trucks had to be at least 1,000 feet away from a high school, and 50 feet away from a public park. Food trucks were also not permitted adjacent to the vast majority of the parcels in the city that are zoned low-density residential, including single-family zoned housing.

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With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) eased a lot of those requirements through their “Safe Start” outdoor dining and curb space use program, which started in June 2020. The program includes options for outdoor dining, vending, merchandise displays, and street closures. We have issued more than 275 permits under the Safe Start program.

Currently, the program is set to expire January 31, 2023.

SDOT has created a draft proposal that includes long-term changes and updates to permit requirements and, if approved by the city council, will put these changes in place once Safe Start expires early next year. The changes include removing restrictions on distances from permanent locations, schools, and parks and restrictions on the number allowed on each block.

The “Safe Start” program also allowed restaurants to apply for permits to use curb space for outdoor seating. With the new draft proposals, restaurants would be able to continue to put outdoor dining space on curbs, with slight alterations to allow for sufficient street parking and ensure the structural integrity of the dining space.

Restaurants can also apply for seasonal permits for outdoor seating space between April and October if they just want to maintain outdoor seating in warmer months.

SDOT is looking for feedback from the community on the draft proposal before submitting the proposal to the city council, and you can contact SDOT about the draft at publicspace@seattle.gov.

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Seattle looks to make food truck outdoor dining regulation permanent