By Aaron Kraut | Bethesda Magazine
Montgomery County will look into the creation of designated food truck areas in an effort to ease concerns from brick-and-mortar restaurants about unfair competition.
The county executive branch “will also explore the need for and location of food truck zones where enhanced food truck vending can be accommodated,” according to a statement provided to the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee.
On Monday, that committee will consider a bill that would define a “food service truck.” Food trucks are now known under county law as food vendors “with regular routes.” From July 2014 to June 2015, there were 30 food trucks permitted to operate in the county, according to the Department of Permitting Services.
Those annual permits cost an average of $390.
The bill would also extend the amount of time food trucks in Montgomery County are allowed to serve food. As food vendors, food trucks now are required to stop serving at sunset, which in the winter means it’s technically illegal for food trucks to serve dinner.
The bill would allow food service trucks to operate from 5 a.m.-10 p.m.
In a July public hearing, the president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and a representative of the Restaurant Association of Maryland opposed the changes—unless other restrictions were added for food trucks.
According to Jane Redicker, president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, those changes could include instituting minimum distances that food trucks must be from brick-and-mortar restaurants or capping the number of food truck licenses provided by the county.
A PHED Committee report on the bill noted “the legality of such a restriction has been challenged as an unconstitutional restraint on trade.”
Melvin Thompson, senior vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, suggested food truck zones and said his group is concerned that food trucks use parking spaces “that would otherwise be used for customers of other restaurants.”
County Council member Nancy Floreen, who co-sponsored the bill and who chairs the PHED Committee, responded to those concerns during the public hearing by saying, “That’s frankly a different bill.”
It’s unknown whether creating food truck zones as suggested by the county executive branch would require regulation changes or new legislation.
If it does, those changes would coincide with the effective date of the bill to define food trucks and extend hours.
According to the executive branch’s statement, staff’s examination of food truck zones will be based on three factors, including where food trucks are least likely to take up limited parking spaces, where food trucks can operate without creating unsafe conditions for pedestrians and where food trucks can operate successfully.
“Constricting food trucks to remote sites does no good for these small businesses,” the statement read.