The Havre de Grace City Council has passed an ordinance designed to spur more economic activity in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic by setting regulations for food trucks operating in city limits.
Food truck operators who possess the proper state, county and city permits can set up in Hutchins Park, North Park along Conesteo Street or on private property with written permission from the owner.
The council voted unanimously, after making some amendments to the legislation, to adopt Ordinance 1039 during its meeting Tuesday.
“This has come out due to COVID,” Councilman Jim Ringsaker said. “We’re trying to find ways to work with our community and work with the food trucks and other businesses, and we’ve come up with this update and change to our existing [peddling and soliciting] ordinance, specifically dealing with our food trucks.”
Most events and festivals that typically draw large numbers of people to Havre de Grace, including the popular monthly First Fridays events downtown and the annual Independence Day celebration in July, have been canceled this year because of the pandemic.
Restaurants in the city also have struggled because of initial state regulations banning indoor dining, limiting traffic to carry-out and delivery orders. The state has eased its restrictions on restaurants, retail stores, houses of worship and other public gathering places since mid-March, and restaurants in Havre de Grace and other communities can offer outdoor and indoor dining at limited capacity.
The City of Havre de Grace put in place during the spring a policy allowing brick-and-mortar restaurants that have food trucks to place the trucks near the restaurant entrance, giving customers a safe option to obtain a meal from their local eatery during the state’s ban on indoor dining.
The policy has since been expanded, with the council voting 3-2 in May to adopt a resolution allowing restaurants to have a food truck within 100 feet of their establishment until the state lifted its emergency order and began allowing a return to in-person dining. The restaurants needed a permit from the city to do so, but they did not have to pay a fee for it.
Once the state’s order was lifted, restaurant food trucks would be subject to the same city regulations as other operators of food trucks or mobile catering businesses, including a $50 “per truck, per day” permit fee, limiting their setup locations to Hutchins Park and North Park near the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House on Conesteo Street — plus private property with written authorization — as well as city regulations regarding hours of operation, holding the necessary county and state permits, proof of insurance and others.
The same stipulations are codified in the ordinance passed by the council Tuesday — city leaders wanted to get the earlier resolution on the books as they worked on updates to the peddling and soliciting codes to accommodate food trucks.
Food trucks are ‘a start’
Mike Laubner, a manager at MacGregor’s Restaurant downtown, expressed concern Thursday about the new ordinance, noting the risk of outside competition to local restaurants coming into the city. He said the city’s prior policy allowing restaurants to station food trucks outside had been very helpful earlier in the pandemic because “it allowed people to still come up to the restaurant” and place an order.
“They felt comfortable coming up to the food truck and ordering,” he said.
When coming to Havre de Grace, it is most cost effective for food truck operators to set up during a festival or other community event, or be at a location such as a brewery or winery that already is a draw to people, rather than simply bringing their truck to the city, Laubner noted.
He said Havre de Grace “is very dependent on foot traffic” for attracting customers to downtown businesses, and any gathering of food trucks would need additional elements to promote the downtown area.
“Just having food trucks at a location wouldn’t do any more or less for the town,” he said.
Food trucks are “a start” for bringing more people to Havre de Grace, but much more is needed to create a large draw, Laubner said, citing prior experience working with the nonprofit Havre de Grace Alliance and the city’s tourism office.
“It’s a start, but there’s a lot more that needs to happen as far as planning and organization to get a serious draw for increased foot traffic,” he said.
Food truck regulations
Operators of food trucks must have a valid license from the Harford County Health Department, as well as valid certificates of insurance and that they are a business in good standing with the state of Maryland, according to Ordinance 1039.
Food trucks cannot be set up in residentially-zoned areas of the city. Four spaces are available for them in Hutchins Park and three more in North Park. The ordinance also sets out requirements regarding signage, handling trash in the area around the vehicle and daily disposal of waste cooking oil, wastewater and trash.
Several amendments were offered Tuesday by Ringsaker and Councilwoman Casi Boyer. The council approved Ringsaker’s amendments clearing up language involving the required county, state, and municipal licenses and permits and the associated fees, as well as ensuring that operators dispose of all waste oil, wastewater and trash daily.
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Boyer’s amendment, requiring operators to fully reimburse the city for any damage they cause to city property, and that no license will be issued to them in the future “until the reimbursement costs are fully paid” also was approved.