Food-truck operators oppose proposed city regulations

Food truck operators packed into Baltimore City Council chambers on Tuesday to testify on an administration bill that would change the way food trucks operate in the city. The food-truck vendors told the Judiciary Committee they are concerned about new parking restrictions and other provisions in the bill, which would turn over turn over the supervision of food trucks to the city’s department of general services.

But they said their biggest concern was that the legislation was just too vague.

Christopher Cherry, who operates the Charm City Gourmet food truck, said the proposed rules don’t have enough details about the bill’s proposal for new food zones.

“It’s a mystery box,” Cherry said after the hearing.

The committee, in the end, agreed with the food-truck operators about the bill’s vagueness, and decided not to decide.

“This legislation is very generic in scope,” said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. “It doesn’t get at the devil in the details.”

After more than two hours of discussion and testimony, the committee’s chairman, James Kraft, announced that the hearing would reconvene on March 4, after interested parties have time to send in written testimony and suggest amendments to the legislation.

Under the proposed rules, trucks would only be able to operate in city-designated food-truck zones. The current rules allow trucks to park and serve food downtown, with certain restrictions, at any legal parking space.

No owner of a of brick-and-mortar businesses testified at the hearing. But Mackenzie Paul, who is in charge of retail development for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, which advised the bill’s writers about the location of food-truck zones, did testify in support of the bill.

After the meeting, Downtown Partnership president Kirby Fowler addressed the issue.

“We want to make sure the brick-and-mortar businesses survive and thrive. But great cities are embracing food truck culture as a way of creating a more active street-level,” Fowler said, adding that the proposed bill will provide a level playing field for food businesses. “Brick-and-mortar businesses have to pay property taxes and other fees. They’re at a disadvantage when it comes to food trucks.”

Fowler said his organization did recommend less rigid rules than the current bill under review. “We don’t need to solve every problem at this level,” Fowler said. “We want to insure that’s flexibility in adopting regulations that respond to condition on the field.”

Clarke said she was concerned that some of the new food-truck zones might end up too close to brick-and-mortar businesses: Current rules, which have been in effect since 2011 as part of pilot program, prohibit trucks from operating within 300 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants.

After the meeting adjourned, the food truck operators said they would begin taking their campaign against the new legislation to their patrons. They said the new rules were addressing problems that didn’t exist.

“There is no problem,” said Tom Looney, co-owner of the Gypsy Queen food truck.

Anne-Marie Langdon, who co-owns Gypsy Queen food with Looney, says she has established good relations with the brick-and-mortar businesses in Hampden, where her truck makes regular visits. Langdon said that she has even joined the neighborhood’s merchants association.

Chad Gauss, the co-owner of The Food Market in Hampden, said he didn’t see an unlevel playing field as long as food truck owners had the proper permits.

“Every business is different,” Gauss said.

But Gauss said he liked the idea of dedicated food zones, and he’d be happy to see food trucks move from their regular parking space in Hampden, on Elm Street, several blocks down to Falls Road, where they could help attract activity to Roosevelt Park, an under-used neighborhood facility.

“We got good feedback from [some] business folk who hadn’t had an opportunity to weigh in on the legislation,” committee chairman James Kraft said. “Had they not come today, we probably would have voted the bill out [of committee].”

Kraft said the committee would vote on March 11 on whether to move the legislation to the full council.

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