An eleventh-hour amendment expanded Baltimore County's food truck pilot program from a Towson-specific endeavor to a countywide measure, the last in a series of alterations to the guidelines that aimed to make food trucks more welcome outside city limits.
"Legislation sometimes has its twists and turns and this bill had many versions before we found a compromise that lightened the distance between food trucks and restaurants, but expanded the protections countywide," Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson and introduced the bill, said in a statement. "This legislation strikes a healthy balance between restaurants and food trucks not just in downtown Towson, but throughout Baltimore County."
County officials and the Maryland Mobile Food Vendors Association had previously agreed to a Towson-exclusive pilot program which would haveprovided a 300-foot buffer from brick-and-mortar restaurants in exchange for food truck parking zones near the Circuit Court in Towson and Towson University.
But an amendment presented by Councilman John Olszewski Sr., who represents the 7th District including Dundalk, includes the entire county.
Olszeweski said at the meeting that the change was intended to make the new rules "fair to all businesses throughout Baltimore County" by creating one standard.
Marks said the food truck association preferred the buffer apply only to Towson, so as a concession, the county knocked down the countywide buffer to 200 feet. The bill unanimously passed Wednesday.
"It's not exactly as promised, but it's close," Damian Bohager, president of the food vendors association said. "As long as they follow through on creating some food truck zones in and around Towson, then I guess no harm, no foul. I have a promise from David [Marks] and from [Towson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director] Nancy Hafford that they were going to work toward making these happen."
County officials have said that the food truck parking spaces would need to be added administratively, as that aspect is too complicated to include in the law.
Hafford, who worked on the bill both as a liaison to Towson's restaurants and as a Planning Board member, said some brick-and-mortar restaurant owners might take issue with the amendment once it was publicized.
"Some of them weren't happy about 300-feet," she said.
"We went in there, we worked for a year to make this happen. The food trucks wanted it at 100 (feet), we wanted it at 300 (feet) and the council settled at 200. At least all the main streets where all the restaurants are, are protected. That was my biggest concern, having food trucks anywhere around where restaurants are … and where people park," Hafford said.
The legislation that was passed Wednesday stemmed from a Planning Board study and recommendation completed in July. The Planning Board recommended a countywide 300-foot buffer.
Bohager said the addition of the food truck parking spaces were key to any agreement, regardless of the buffer. Before the legislation, which also codifies food truck licenses, food truck vendors avoided parts of the county because of parking regulations, among other reasons.
"The problem is that you can't just put a food truck someplace and expect it to do well," Bohager said. "You have to build up an audience, if you will. So that's why we think it's more important to have a food truck zone where we can build it. … It's kind of like getting our foot in the front door."
Baltimore City is in the process of making such accommodations, Bohager said. While the city has a 300-foot buffer, Bohager said reform legislation before the City Council will establish more than a dozen food truck zones where the area's 35 food trucks can park.
"They understand the importance of food trucks, but they don't want it to be the wild west, where people can park anywhere," Bohager said.