County officials are working with restaurant and food truck owners to change Baltimore County's food truck laws to better clarify where the trucks are allowed, especially in downtown Towson.
"We've having a lot of problems with food trucks coming into the area that were parking really closely to existing restaurants, and there really wasn't any enforcement because food trucks have never really been an issue around here," said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce and a member of the county planning board.
Hafford said she hopes a set of proposed standards developed in meetings the past year between county planning officials, Towson restaurant owners, the Restaurant Association of Maryland and the Maryland Mobile Food Vending Association will improve the situation.
Current county regulations say a food truck cannot park within 100 feet of an existing restaurant, but some restaurant owners say that is still too close.
A community input meeting on the proposed new regulations is scheduled before the Planning Board on Thursday, June 20 at 5 p.m. County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said the specifics of those recommendations are still being finalized and were not available at press time.
Hafford, who attended the discussion meetings, said the principal proposed change in the laws was increasing the buffer zone between restaurants and food trucks from 100 to 300 feet.
The vending association, which boasts more than 20 member food trucks operators on its website and advocates for its members with local governments, represented area food trucks in the discussions. Willy Dely, the organization's president, said the main problem for truck owners is that street-side parking near the courthouse in downtown Towson is limited to one hour.
"It's difficult to park and serve for an hour," Dely said. "That's a major hold-up."
The proposed regulations would allow food trucks to pay a daily fee to stay in parking spaces for longer than an hour, Dely said. Other changes to food truck licenses are included in the upcoming proposal, though details were not available as of press time.
Dely said all of the members respect the law and said the county worked "very hard" to accommodate each side and ensure the recommendations were equitable to everyone.
"I know (the new recommendations) don't please everybody," Hafford said. "I think if you went to five different restaurants, you'd get five different answers."
Marta Quintana, owner of Havana Road Cuban Café on Pennsylvania Avenue, said she was initially against the proposed recommendations and wanted an even larger buffer.
When she realized a 500-foot buffer would effectively ban food trucks from downtown Towson, she relented.
"I want my restaurant to be successful, and I want them to be successful as well but not parked outside my restaurant," Quintana said. "We need to approach this with an open mind. No one likes this 100-percent, but that's where compromise comes in."
Others have reservations about whether the new legislation will do enough.
Boyko Tachkov, managing partner at 7West Bistro, said that even with a minimal food truck presence, it's difficult to maintain a restaurant business in downtown Towson.
"A lot of the business owners in Towson, we are here to stay," Tachkov said. "Some of us pay rent, some of us own the buildings. But the bottom line is the business in Towson, it's tough the way it is. When you add food trucks into the equation, that means that some of the businesses will be lost."
"All of us really count on a busy lunch, and we want to make these lunches as busy as possible," Tachkov said. "You don't want food trucks to park in front of your place if you have a business and pay your taxes and so on. Someone can come from a couple of hours and make what you make in a day."