Negotiations heat up over food truck regulations

Written by on May 7, 2014 in Neighborhood News - No comments
It’s about 8:45 a.m., and the Smoking Swine, a food truck specializing in barbeque, is getting ready for the day in Fell’s Point. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

It’s about 8:45 a.m., and the Smoking Swine, a food truck specializing in barbeque, is getting ready for the day in Fell’s Point. – Photo by Erik Zygmont

If the virality of a recent Facebook post is any indication, it might be best to not get between Baltimoreans and their food trucks.

The post, made by “The Gathering,” a regular event in which Baltimore-area food trucks gather in one location, sometimes inviting trucks from other cities to participate, said that an amendment made to pending food truck legislation would “ban food trucks from Fell’s Point to Greektown.”

City Councilman Jim Kraft, responsible for much of the area from Fell’s Point to Greektown, called that part of the post “a bunch of crap.”

Kraft did say that his amendment would prohibit food trucks in certain areas: Fell’s Point between Caroline and Washington streets, from either Eastern Ave. or Fleet St. down to the water.

Also, trucks would be unable to set up in Canton’s O’Donnell Square, or along Highlandtown’s Eastern Ave., from Ellwood Ave. to Haven St., Kraft said, though three hundred feet outside of those zones would be fair game.

“The reason was, we were getting so many complaints from the businesses,” Kraft said.

According to the councilman, the “vast majority” of complaints were about “fashion trucks”–trucks purveying women’s clothing.

“This year, we got daily complaints about fashion trucks,” he said.

Another volume of complaints came from smaller-scale, brick-and-mortar food businesses, according to Kraft.

“We’re not as concerned about the big restaurants,” he said. “By and large, they aren’t competing with the food trucks. If people are going to have a business lunch, they’re going to have a business lunch; they’re not buying from a hot dog vendor.”

As for the smaller food establishments:

“It’s a legitimate complaint,” he said. “We have these vacant buildings. The people complain to the city about these vacant commercial spaces…we beg people to come in there.”

Kraft said that those businesses pay leases, taxes, permit fees, minor privilege fees and more.

“Then somebody pulls out in front of them with a truck and pays nothing.”

Damian Bohager, president of the Maryland Mobile Food Vending Association, said that food truck operators pay a lot in taxes and fees.

“The only thing [brick-and-mortar establishments] pay more of is property tax,” Bohager, who owned the now-closed Fell’s Point bar of the same name, said. “And, they can serve alcohol.”

He said that operating a food truck is hard work.

“You don’t want to do this,” he said. “It’s harder than you think—12-14 hour days. It’s not ‘I’m going to go out, do lunch for three or four hours, and make a ton of money.”

Both Bohager and Kraft said that the city and the Mobile Food Vending Association have been negotiating on the rules to govern food trucks for some time, and that negotiations are continuing.

“In 2011 when food trucks first started showing up, no one in the city knew how to regulate them,” said Bohager.

Early on, he said, it was established that food trucks should stay 300 feet away from brick-and-mortar food establishments. In some other cities, Bohager said, the Institute for Justice, the self-described “country’s only libertarian, civil liberties, public interest law firm,” has been fighting similar restrictions on food trucks. 
“The 300-foot rule is unconstitutional and illegal,” Bohager said, adding that the city wasn’t thrilled to hear that assertion.

“The city’s response was, ‘We want to give you a lot and help you grow and prosper, but we want you to not sue us for the 300-foot rule,’” he said.

Nevertheless, according to Bohager, the food trucks and the city have continued to negotiate toward a mutually acceptable compromise.

“We’d rather do it that way—in a friendly way,” he said. “We just don’t want councilpeople to come and make solutions for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Kraft said that no final decisions have been made with regard to food truck regulations; nothing has been voted on.

by Erik Zygmont

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