Pub­lic weighs in on food trucks

Plan­ning com­mis­sion dis­cussing reg­u­la­tions for ven­dors

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

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.”

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