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Food truck owners continue fight to overturn city's '300-foot rule'

Baltimore food truck owners continued their fight Wednesday to overturn a city rule that bars them from operating near brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Attorneys representing food truck owners Joey Vanoni and Nikki Marks (nee McGowan) and lawyers for the city went before a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge Wednesday, each asking for summary judgment on a case that began more than a year ago. The lawsuit, filed against the city last May by the Institute for Justice on behalf of the food truck owners, alleges a Baltimore law banning food trucks from operating within 300 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant with similar menu options is unconstitutional.

Attorneys for both the plaintiffs and defendants filed motions for summary judgment, asking the court to uphold or strike down the law before it goes to trial. The food truck owners also filed a motion to exclude testimony from the city’s expert witness, economist Anirban Basu.

Judge Yolanda Tanner said she would hand down decisions before Aug. 18, when a pre-trial hearing is scheduled. If she dismisses the motions, the case will go to trial.

Greg Reed, an Institute for Justice attorney, said during the hearing the rule is “economic favoritism” that prevents food trucks from operating in a number of neighborhoods such as Hampden, Harbor East, Federal Hill and Fells Point.

Mark Dimenna, the assistant city solicitor representing the city, said the rule is a matter of police power, and the plaintiffs failed to prove the law is an arbitrary or irrational use of police power.

“The 300-foot rule is a minimal barrier to entry into the Baltimore marketplace,” Dimenna said.

Vanoni, who launched his food truck in August 2014, said he hopes for a favorable ruling that will allow him to expand the radius where he operates his truck, Pizza di Joey. Because the current law prevents Vanoni from operating in certain neighborhoods, he said he previously tried setting up in places like West Ostend Street, East Fayette Street and other spots away from major main streets in Baltimore.

“I wasn’t thriving in those areas,” he said.

He primarily operates in Anne Arundel County and brings his truck to special events in Baltimore, but said he would like to serve areas such as Harbor East, Federal Hill and Fells Point.

Separately, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration recently established 10 new food truck zones across the city where food trucks can park exclusively during the day to serve their food.

A Baltimore resident for 10 years, Vanoni said he’s watched the city’s food scene grow and wants to contribute to it.

“I think that I could be part of that growth and development,” he said.

smeehan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sarahvmeehan

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