Bel Air town officials appear poised to welcome mobile food vendors inside the town limits, but the range where they will be able to operate will be very limited.
If the Board of Town Commissioners approves an updated version of the ordinance regulating solicitors and itinerant dealers, food trucks will get a green light to come into town, but they'll still be left out of the downtown area under the latest plan drawn up by the town's planning director.
Planning Director Kevin Small presented the latest proposed boundary map during Wednesday's commissioners work session, and it essentially restricts food trucks and other mobile vendors to the courthouse blocks downtown, three parks, a couple of church properties, the commercial area around North Main Street and Ellendale Avenue and the Route 24 area, including the major shopping centers and Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
Small said he eliminated all the rest of downtown after meeting with town restaurant and tavern owners, many of whom had expressed concerns about the town's plan to permit mobile food vendors.
"We got a lot of good feedback and have made appropriate changes," Small added.
Mayor Eddie Hopkins, who also attended that meeting, said the restaurant and tavern owners seemed pleased with the latest plan. "There's not much opposition," he added.
Whether they are satisfied should become evident on Monday night, when the commissioners hold a public hearing on two pieces of legislation and a resolution that will permit mobile vendors in town for the first time. The hearing will be part of the regular town meeting starting at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
Ordinance 757-12 establishes new rules and regulations for itinerant dealers – which are basically mobile vendors selling from carts, wagons, trucks, trailers, auto or other vehicle; peddlers – somebody who does not sell things from a vehicle or from a fixed location like a produce stand; and solicitors – people who take orders for products, sell subscriptions or solicit and collect funds door-to-door.
Small ran through the definition of each during Wednesday's work session and presented a comparison chart between existing town law and what the new law will change. He noted at the beginning that the town's existing law does not permit any sales from a motor vehicle within the town limits.
Itinerant dealers and peddlers, he explained, would be allowed within the town limits in the future, but only in designated areas on either public property or on private property, with the permission of the property owner and only with a town license. Solicitors will be allowed to operate in residential areas.
Operating area set
Included in the proposed permitted area for dealers and peddlers are Shamrock, Rockfield and Plumtree parks; the blocks that contain St. Margaret Church on Hickory Avenue, New Covenant Christian Church on Courtland Place and Bel Air United Methodist Church on South Main Street, a handful of small commercial properties across Hickory Avenue from Town Hall; and the commercial areas along Ellendale Street on both sides of North Main Street.
Permitted town rights-of-way where the food trucks and other mobile vendors could set up include Ellendale Street, Lee Way between St. Margaret and Shamrock Park; Gateway Drive and Blum Court in the vicinity of the post office and other commercial areas north of Harford Mall; South Atwood Road between Marketplace Drive and West MacPhail Road and West MacPhail from South Atwood to Tollgate Road.
The latter stretch of road passes by the McFaul Activity Center, MVA and Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. The hospital property is likewise included in the map's permitted zone, which is designated in blue, as are Harford Mall, Tollgate Marketplace, Home Depot, Bel Air Plaza, Bel Air Town Center and the shopping center that is home to Dick's and Weis Market. Neither the MVA property nor the McFaul Center is within the permitted zone.
Small also noted that many of those large commercial properties that will be in the permitted zone could be used by a mobile vendor only if the owner gives permission. As he had stated previously, Small said he believes some vendors will try to get established around both the hospital and Home Depot; however, again, they would need permission from the owner or tenant. In addition, Marketplace Drive by Home Depot is not a permitted right-of-way.
He also said Thursday that the church properties are included in the permitted zone because some churches stage carnivals and sales to raise funds, "and we wanted to give them the flexibility to continue having these events."
Also off-limits to food trucks will be the Kelly Fields area off Boulton Street, near Route 24, which is actually outside the town; however, the trucks would be allowed to use the parking lot across from Kelly Fields, which Small said is owned by the county.
Area pared down
Previously, Small had proposed a far more extensive operating area for the food trucks, one that would have included properties in the entire downtown corridor along Main and Bond streets, as well as Hickory Avenue from Broadway to Churchville Road, Pennsylvania Avenue from Bond Street to Hays Street, Thomas Street from Hays Street to Atwood Road and Hays Street from Pennsylvania Avenue to Thomas Street. Those areas and rights-of-way would be off-limits under the newest map.
Small said he left in the block encompassing the Circuit Courthouse and the block encompassing the Mary E.W. Risteau State Office Building and District Court to accommodate the hot dog carts that have been permitted in those places in the past because they are permitted under the current ordinance. The new ordinance treats cart vendors the same as food trucks.
Another change in the new ordinance places time limits on when solicitors and mobile vendors can operate in town, as there are no such restrictions at this time. Solicitors would be allowed to operate between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., while peddlers and itinerant dealers, including food trucks, would be allowed to operate between 9 a.m. and midnight.
Since the proposed change in the town's law to allow food trucks was first proposed in December, some downtown restaurant operators have been downright hostile toward it, while others have said they don't mind the competition but feel it's not fair to them that the interlopers will have far less investment and pay little or no taxes compared to a fixed operator.
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Small also said previously that the Bel Air Downtown Alliance is on board with the change in the belief that it will open up more eating opportunities for those who work, visit and shop in Bel Air.
Higher fees planned
Also part of Monday's public hearing will be a companion Ordinance 758, which amends the current development regulations to remove the existing ban on sales of goods from trucks and other vehicles, and Resolution 993-12, which sets new fees for peddlers, solicitors and itinerant dealers.
For the food trucks and other itinerant dealers, a license will cost $240 for up to 90 days or $400 per year, while a peddler's license will cost $120 for up to 90 days or $240 per year. Small said the license fees for itinerant dealers were made higher after he met with the restaurant and tavern owners.
Judging from the comments or lack thereof from the four commissioners during Wednesday's work session, the food truck ordinance would appear to have a good chance of passage. Commissioner David Carey was not at the meeting.
During a later discussion of an upcoming meeting among county elected officials, Commission Robert Preston asked if the town's plan to permit food trucks should be discussed at that session, given that the county has no restrictions on food trucks operating in areas under its jurisdiction outside of Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace.
Town Administrator Chris Schlehr advised against initiating such a discussion. "Let's let the dust settle first," he advised Preston.