Council mulls pilot regulations on Towson food trucks

Towson restaurant owners and food truck advocates said during a Baltimore County Council work session Tuesday that they support a proposed bill that would establish a pilot program to regulate food trucks in downtown Towson.

"Food trucks would like to be a part of Towson as it grows and goes through its redevelopment," Damian Bohager, president of the Maryland Mobile Food Vendors Association, told the council. "We think it's a great idea as a pilot program and we look forward to revisiting it in a couple years."

County law doesn't currently regulate the food trucks, which park streetside and serve customers on the sidewalks. Several have set up in Towson in recent years, but without official regulation that establishes where they can set up and how they can operate. For that reason, many street food vendors simply avoid Baltimore County.

But the reform legislation, which is scheduled to go before a council vote on Tuesday, could change that in downtown Towson.

The legislation arose from a Planning Board study commissioned in 2011 and completed in summer 2013. Many aspects of the planning study, which includes creation of a food truck license, will remain as part of the pilot program. But the board's recommendation of a county-wide 300-foot buffer from restaurants was later changed by the council.

During later negotiations between the food vendors association and county officials, the 300-foot buffer was agreed upon for downtown Towson, with a 100-foot buffer applied elsewhere in the county. When the legislation was changed to a pilot program, the 100-foot buffer was dropped elsewhere in the county.

In Towson, under the pilot program, food trucks would be prohibited from parking on York Road, as well as Chesapeake, Allegheny and Pennsylvania avenues between Washington Avenue and York Road.

"It's so important, not to protect the brick-and-mortar businesses here but to protect their parking in front of their stores," Nancy Hafford, a Planning Board member and executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said during the hearing.

The food vendors association accepted the perimeters of the pilot program for the buffer in Towson on the condition that food truck parking spaces be added near the Circuit Court building on Chesapeake Avenue and near Towson University.

Those spaces cannot be added through the legislation, and must be created by other means within the county.

However, Councilman David Marks said county attorneys took issue with legislating differently for different parts of the county. The pilot program, which would expire in three years, allowed for a short-term solution for now.

"Downtown Towson will be a much different place in three years, and we can go from there," said, Marks, whose district includes Towson. "Most importantly, the legislation gives consumers a choice by keeping food trucks in downtown Towson but just not in a way that crowds out nearby restaurants."

Throughout the process, some restaurant owners have fought to keep food trucks farther away from their front doors, citing higher overhead. But several restaurant owners at Tuesday's hearing spoke in support of the measure.

Melony Wagner, one of the owners of Charles Village Pub on Pennsylvania Avenue in Towson, said food trucks have irked restaurateurs by not taking care of their trash, taking up parking spaces close to brick-and-mortar restaurants and bothering their customers and people on the street with their loud generators.

James Kahn, one of the owners of S&J; Crab Ranch, also on Pennsylvania Avenue, concurred.

Both he and Wagner, however, support the bill.

"We want people to see Towson as a destination, not just a place they can eat at lunchtime, but to come here on the weekends and at night and have restaurants they can go to," Wagner said.

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