City officials made strides on Wednesday to accommodate Baltimore's growing fleet of food trucks, temporarily lifting restrictions and establishing pilot food truck zones for the popular mobile eateries.
All food trucks must now carry a street vendor's license, which will allow them to operate anywhere downtown, according to new rules announced at an overflow meeting of the city's Street Vendors Board. The board also lifted its regulations prohibiting food trucks from parking within 300 feet of a restaurant or cafe with similar fare for a six-month trial period.
Starting Friday, food trucks will be able to park in any legal space in the city. In addition, the city will create five pilot zones with designated parking for food trucks. The city plans to assess the changes and rule in December.
"We love food trucks," said Kaliope Parthemos, deputy mayor of economic and neighborhood development. "We just need to make sure we balance their needs with those of brick-and-mortar restaurants."
Food truck owners, who had been apprehensive about the street vendor's license, were delighted by the turn of events.
"I'm shocked and thrilled," said Irene Smith, who owns the Souper Freak food truck.
Last month, Smith's struggles with the city over permits prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to declare a grace period for food truck owners to comply with city policies. Rawlings-Blake also assigned a City Hall worker to review the street vending rules.
Food truck owners, who have formed an association, met with city representatives to hammer out the details for the assessment period.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the effort that Deputy Mayor Kaliope Parthemos and Alvin O. Gillard put into making this happen," said Patrick Russell, who owns the Chowhound Burger Wagon, which is generally acknowledged as the pace-setter in Baltimore's food truck fleet. "I believe they're really in favor of business in the city."
Russell and other food truck owners acknowledged that they will have to regulate themselves during the interim period or risk alienating their supporters at City Hall. Food truck vendors might be willing to self-enforce the 300-foot rule, depending on the location, he said.
"We might come across some snags," Russell said. "We want to coordinate with the city so we don't trample on each other. The more that we work together, the more the city will be willing to work with us."