Let’s be clear: Bel Air’s latest dalliance with food trucks is ill-advised, unfair and just plain wrong.
Amy Chmielewski, the newest face on the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners, said at the end of a public hearing last week on a measure that would allow food trucks in more parts of downtown that she had listened to everyone who spoke and supports nearly everyone, but she also supports local neighborhoods.
“I hope you guys respect whatever decision we make,” she said.
That won’t happen. Those whose side the town board takes will be happy. Those whose side the town board rejects will be unhappy. It’s that simple.
Bradley Stover, a Bel Air attorney representing Looney’s Pub, said the investment in a food truck “is just simply much lower, and it’s not on the same scale.”
Jo Harding-Gordon, a Bel Air resident who owns the mobile Flash Crabcake Company, and the former owner of the defunct JoMomma’s Steak and Seafood restaurant, jumped on Stover’s comments.
“If you break it down to square footage, I can guarantee you my investment is greater in my mobile crab company than it was in my restaurant,” Harding-Gordon said.
It’s pretty obvious, except to those affiliated with food truck businesses, that the investment in a bricks and mortar eatery is far greater than in a food truck. Anyone, other than perhaps a food truck owner, would quickly understand by looking at a food truck parked across Main Street from Looney’s that the investment in the mobile eatery is nowhere near what the Looney’s folks have invested in the building, in their business and in the town.
That’s the heart of the matter - those who have invested in brick and mortar eateries are protecting their business and their investments by opposing expansion of the food truck business. Those who have invested in food trucks want to protect their investments by being allowed to get some of that lucrative downtown Bel Air eatery business.
The proposal that has prompted this revisiting of Bel Air’s food truck regulations is a request by the owners of AleCraft, a small brewing company across Main Street from Looney’s Pub, to allow a food truck to park and operate on its parking lot.
Robert Preston, a former town commissioner, who spent decades on the Bel Air Planning Commission, is Alecraft’s landlord and he spoke up on behalf of the request.
“I think on our particular property it would certainly enhance AleCraft and it would give us a situation where we’re not having issues with other restaurants,” he said.
Preston is right on both accounts – a food truck would enhance AleCraft and AleCraft would not have issues with any other restaurants. But he is oh, so wrong on the matter.
We wonder how much and to how many people Preston would’ve complained if Looney’s officials had asked the town to let a mobile stationery/office supplies truck set up shop in the pub’s parking lot across Main Street to directly and more cheaply compete with his family when it was operating its stationery and office supply business.
The answer is obvious, especially if a Looney’s rep said: “I think on our particular property it would certainly enhance [Looney’s], and it would give us a situation where we’re not having issues with other [office supplies businesses].”
We don’t fault food truck owners for trying to make a living and enhancing their business. Nor do we fault restaurant owners for protecting their livelihoods and their investments.
We do, however, greatly fault Bel Air’s town commissioners for having neither the business acumen nor the common sense to understand that it just ain’t right to approve an expansion of the food truck business in downtown Bel Air.