2015 | Dine

Food Truck Bill Faces Pushback

Restaurant group, Chamber representative say county shouldn't allow food trucks to operate for more hours each day unless other changes are made

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The BBQ Bus food truck (parked outside the restaurant for advertising purposes) operates the kitchen inside Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring.

Andrew Metcalf

A County Council bill that would extend the amount of time food trucks are allowed to operate each day is facing pushback from representatives of brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Jane Redicker, president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, and Melvin Thompson, senior vice president at the Restaurant Association of Maryland, told the council at a Tuesday public hearing that they’re opposed to the measure unless other restrictions are added for food trucks.

“We hope to work on some compromise,” Thompson said. “Extending food truck operating hours without also addressing the myriad other issues that are often involved in these situations is a bit short-sighted. We’re looking to find a way to create a regulatory structure so that food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants can peacefully coexist.”

The bill would provide a legally distinct definition of a food truck. County law currently treats food trucks the same as all other vendors.

That means food trucks can only operate before sunset. In the fall and winter, that often restricts food trucks to serving food at lunch.

While food truck operators have said the so-called “dawn to dusk” rule is rarely enforced, the bill would allow them to operate from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Bill sponsors Hans Riemer, Nancy Navarro and Nancy Floreen are advocating for the measure on behalf of a group of students at Wheaton High School who came up with it as part of the county’s Innovation Lab program.

Redicker said she wouldn’t support the bill unless it took a broader look at regulating food trucks, perhaps by instituting minimum distances that food trucks must be from brick-and-mortar restaurants or putting a cap on the number of food truck licenses provided by the county.

Thompson said the Restaurant Association is looking for “a more comprehensive bill” that reflects recent laws introduced in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, where there are designated food truck zones.

“We have concerns regarding parking generally as it relates to the use of parking spaces that would otherwise be used for customers of other restaurants,” Thompson said.

While Riemer said he was open to broadening the bill and finding a compromise, Floreen indicated that she was not.

“No one has commented on the subject of the bill,” Floreen said after the public hearing. “Food trucks are permitted today and the effort before us is simply to permit them to start a bit earlier in the day and go a bit later in the day. There are other issues. That’s frankly a different bill.”

Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the DMV Food Truck Association, testified at the hearing that “there is not a single brick-and-mortar restaurant that has closed because a food truck has opened on their block.”

Ruddell-Tabisola, who’s also the co-owner of BBQ Bus – which opened a brick-and-mortar operation out of Silver Spring’s Denizens Brewing Co. last year – also said it would be inappropriate for the council to pass laws that favor one business over another.

“What makes good food truck policy is increasing access to food,” Ruddell-Tabisola said. “Make no mistake that good policy and the role of government is to encourage access to food, never to pass laws that prohibit it.”

The bill isn’t expected to hit the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee until September.