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Care should be taken in regulating food trucks [Editorial]

Food trucks are hot. The rolling diners featuring trendy (and sometimes pricey) eats are turning up more and more at intersections, urban and suburban, with high pedestrian traffic. They tap into a customer base ready for high-end street food.

There's even a TV show, "Eat Street," about them.

But food trucks sometimes give restaurateurs heartburn. Operators of eateries with an actual building are sometimes dismayed to see a food truck parked nearby with a line of customers waiting. That line could be the restaurant's lunch crowd being lured away.

Baltimore County has rules about where food trucks may or may not park and serve meals. County officials are weighing revisions to those rules. We hope they are fair referees in this dispute.

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce and a member of the county Planning Board, said enforcement of food truck rules wasn't much of an issue when the trucks were less of a presence. Now, she said, "a lot of problems" have arisen from trucks parking close to restaurants.

Current county regulations require that a parked food truck be at least 100 feet from a restaurant, but some restaurant owners find that still too close for comfort.

Under discussion has been a proposal to increase the buffer zone to 300 feet. That is the length of a football field. If a street has one restaurant per block, that could effectively bar any food trucks on that street.

The length of time a food truck may park in one spot may also be an issue. Parking in some locations near the Towson courthouse, obviously a prime food truck spot, is limited to one hour, and truck operators are hoping for some kind of relief.

Meanwhile, it's worth asking why Towson's hot dog cart vendors, which have served the courthouse area for years, are not part of this discussion.

New standards need to be set with care. We are glad to hear that discussion sessions have included county officials, restaurant owners, the Restaurant Association of Maryland and the Maryland Mobile Food Vending Association. Additional discussion will be invited at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 20, at a Planning Board meeting. The more voices heard on this issue the better.

Food service has a narrow profit margin. A well-considered compromise will serve to protect the bottom line of both restaurants and food trucks. We want them both to thrive.

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