Legislation that clarifies Baltimore County's food truck regulations was introduced to the Baltimore County Council Monday night, and if passed, would allow the popular mobile vendors to continue to cater to the downtown Towson business crowd.
"Food trucks are an important part of the diversity of choices in Downtown Towson," Councilman David Marks, who introduced the bill, said Monday in a statement. "They offer quick food for people who want faster service. They can exist side by side with sit-down restaurants, but should not crowd out those restaurants."
A lack of clear standards for the trucks has caused many operators to steer clear of setting up food trucks in the county seat. Established brick-and-mortar restaurant owners complained that the food trucks infringed on their businesses, but no applicable regulations protected them.
For that reason, the Maryland Mobile Food Vendors Association requested in 2011 that the county examine its food truck regulations. Over several months, planning staff met with Towson-area business groups and the vendors association to hear each side's concerns. Issues included parking, health regulations and how close the food trucks could park from brick-and-mortar restaurants.
It became evident that officials needed to start by codifying what a food truck was under the county code. The legislation introduced Monday defines a food truck as a "self-contained mobile vehicle that sells food from the curb side of the vehicle to customers on the curb side of the street."
But the main issue to work out was to determine how far a distance the food trucks would park from the brick-and-mortar restaurants.
The new legislation states that in downtown Towson, food trucks would be prohibited from parking within 300 feet of a restaurant with the buffer zone just 100 feet everywhere else. This means that food trucks would be prohibited from parking on York Road, as well as Chesapeake, Allegheny and Pennsylvania avenues between Washington Avenue and York Road.
Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Planning Board, said allowing food trucks to park within 100 feet of the downtown restaurants would be too close. The higher overhead for brick-and-mortar restaurants, combined with the possibility of food trucks taking up parking spaces in front of the restaurants made the regulations necessary, Hafford said.
"There are some wonderful food trucks out there," Hafford said. "We don't want to say you can't do business in Towson, but we're looking out for the brick-and-mortar, too. That's why we came up with the 300 feet, so (the food trucks) can still come."
The Planning Board initially recommended that the buffer zone be 300 feet across the county. But Damian Bohager, the recently-elected president of the MMFVA, told the County Council at a September public hearing that such buffers have been overturned by lawsuits across the country.
Bohager said he told county officials that the association with consent to a 300-foot buffer in Towson if the county could provide food truck parking spaces outside the Towson courthouses.
Those spaces would need to be created administratively, not as part of the law, Bohager said. Marks said creating such spaces was "very feasible."
The new legislation also requires vendors to have a food truck license, which subjects operators to the county's health code and parking standards. The yearly fee amount would be set by the county administrative office.
The food truck vendor bill will be discussed at a Tuesday, Jan. 14 work session, before a vote on Tuesday, Jan. 21.