Portsmouth’s city and elected officials should take a look at the possibility of allowing more food trucks to operate in the city and permitting more restaurants to add outdoor seating. However, the analysis should be thoughtful and broad in its consideration.

A few years ago, the city began permitting several restaurants to provide outdoor seating, where appropriate, as that is key. What works in Market Square and Congress Street may not work on State Street. It may work in certain spots on Bow Street, but certainly not the length of the street, some points of which have more narrow sidewalks than others.

It is important to note that sidewalk seating is on city property and while dining al fresco is a nice offering, sidewalks must maintain their functionality for pedestrians. That is paramount, but the addition of outdoor seating in several spots has proven to further activate spaces and has seen few or no detriments.

The issue of permitting more food trucks is a bit more complicated and should be weighed even more carefully. Currently, the city has permits for the operation of six food trucks, but only four are presently used. That may speak to the demand for such mobile culinary operations.

Where it gets complicated is allowing food trucks to take up parking spaces and operate with much lower overhead than stationary businesses that pay mortgages or rent and the property taxes included within them. The currently operating food trucks have not and likely will not put stationary restaurants out of business, but the concerns of restaurateurs are valid and should be considered.

City Manager John Bohenko said city staff will reach out to officials from the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce about the issue, adding “The last time we brought this up there was a very hard reaction.”

Another key consideration is where food trucks should be able to operate. Privatizing public parking spaces is a concern. While it may only take a few spaces out of operation, it nonetheless is something to weigh in inviting others to join the mix. Some might point out that allowing stationary restaurants to use public sidewalks is the same thing, but that goes back to permitting where appropriate and not diminishing the functionality of sidewalks and on-street parking.

An additional consideration is whether the city wants its streets dotted with food trucks. A handful of such operations are not going to make the city look like a midway at the county fair, but aesthetics are often a hotly debated issue within Portsmouth. Providing for designated locations, such as the Worth or Parrott Avenue parking lots as suggested, would solve the aforementioned concerns to a large degree.

In the end, the addition of more outdoor seating where appropriate can add to the streetscape vitality of Portsmouth. A few more food trucks are not going to ruin the city. However, not all of the food truck permits are in use, and absent of a restaurant requesting permission for outdoor seating, there doesn’t seem to be pressing demand for expansion of these respective issues.