Public weighs in on food trucks
Planning commission discussing regulations for vendors
The food truck experience has been more of a mixed bag over the last decade for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area — and it continued to be just that in Charles County on Monday night.
The Charles County Planning Commission hosted the county’s first public hearing on food trucks, and opinions varied heavily.
Some were in favor of food trucks and thought they would bring more food options for the growing Charles County community. Others thought the food trucks would make the county more like the District of Columbia, with a dearth of food trucks on every corner.
Under the current proposed legislation, according to Steve Ball, the director of planning for the county, food trucks would only be able to operate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The trucks also must have a limit on size, according to the proposed legislation. The maximum size for the vehicles can not exceed 18 feet long by 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide.
They would also have to be within close proximity of a bathroom, be certified and inspected by the county’s health department for $250 annually and pay an annual $50 inspection fee, too.
But despite fees, associated costs of the truck and food expenses, some restaurant owners are still against trucks coming into the county.
Diana Rucci, co-owner of Rucci’s Italian Deli & Doughboys and wife of Charles County Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D), said she is opposed to having food trucks because the investment food truck operators have in the county is not the same as the investment brick-and-mortar restaurant owners have.
“I am not against food trucks. I’m not against their services. I’m not against them at fairs or festivals. I’m not against roach coaches or ice cream trucks,” Rucci said. “I’m 100 percent against a proposal that would require my business to compete with an operation that does not have the same investment or the same skin in the game as mine.”
Food trucks do not have to pay property taxes or personal property taxes, Rucci said, and would not have any incentive to keep their money in the county should they come from different areas around the region.
They do not have the same health inspection requirements as normal restaurants, Rucci said, although Ball said the requirements would likely be similar and are still being looked at.
Rucci said she and her husband put $300,000 into developing their business in White Plains, where they knew what their competition would be and knew the environment. Food trucks would change things in the area, she said.
But Lawrence Cheeks, a chef and a food truck operator, said all he wants is a chance to be successful in the community.
“Food trucks do have some of the same things restaurants have,” Cheeks said. “People love food trucks. And for those who have never experienced them, get out and check them out. Give us a shot.”
Both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have food truck legislation in place. In Montgomery County, food truck operators are designated as “vendors” and must operate under similar standards to restaurant owners.
In Prince George’s County there are several inspections that must be passed between the health department and the department of permitting. There are specific operating hours, and a public hearing is required before any authorization is granted.
Food trucks in Prince George’s County are also only allowed to operate in specific “hub” areas within a quarter-mile of a public transit station. Ball said Charles County may look to do something similar.
Najiba Hlemi, executive director of D.C., Maryland and Virginia Food Truck Association, said they are in support of the legislation and the group hopes food trucks can come to Charles County soon.
There are still tweaks that need to be worked out in the legislation, Hlemi said, such as the restroom provision in which food truck owners and property owners must agree to allow for use of bathrooms. The association is against that, she said, because it presents a dilemma for food truck operators and turns property owners against their operation.
There is also an issue with limiting the size of food trucks, Hlemi said.
“There are lots of makes and sizes. The height restriction, in particular, limits ventilation so you don’t want to do that,” Hlemi said. “It restricts the type of trucks you can have out there.”
With hour limits between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., Hlemi said, there will be restrictions on some breakfast trucks, and anytime an event goes beyond 10 p.m., she said, a truck will not be available.
But with more tweaks, the legislation can be good for the county, Hlemi noted.
“Overall, we support the legislation. We support any regulation that supports food safety and establishes licensing and permitting,” Hlemi said. “We think this is a good step.”