By Arelis R. Hernandez and Bill Turque | Washington Post
Food trucks were legalized in Prince George’s County on Tuesday after county legislators passed a package of laws aimed at licensing, regulating and permitting mobile vending in restricted areas — reversing a decade-old prohibition against the roving eateries.
The change did not come without controversy though. The question of bringing back food trucks revolved around the appetites of communities that had been scarred by experiences with “roach coaches” — as they were called — or, sub-standard roadside vendors.
To win support from the majority of the County Council, bill supporters spent months designing a tight regulatory framework for entrepreneurs while compromising on amendments that carve out specific areas of Prince George’s where food trucks could not operate to appease lawmakers in those districts.
Sponsors hope the new laws will invite the dining trend back to Prince George’s for a limited engagement that will spark economic development and provide healthy food to underserved communities where there is limited access to fresh produce.
“I hope we struck the right balance,” said Council member Dannielle Glaros (D-Riverdale Park), who sponsored the legislation. “We’re cracking the door open to start to enable our entrepreneurs to come into our community and provide amenities where we just don’t have them.”
Two communities, College Park and New Carrollton, in Glaros’s district will likely be among the first to host one of 12 “food truck hubs” or designated spots within a quarter-mile of metro stations or at a county parks facility where trucks can gather.
Each hub will be managed by a coordinator to ensure compliance with new rules and take care of garbage. To operate in the county, business owners will undergo strict safety and health inspections and pay a fee — $500 for 60-day operation and $3,500 if operating longer — before obtaining a license. A committee of citizens will oversee the program.
However, in a deal with more skeptical lawmakers such as Council member Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington), three metro stations will be excluded as possible hub locations: West Hyattsville; Largo Town Center and Prince George’s Plaza metro stations.
Minutes before the vote Tuesday, Patterson requested a last-minute amendment to include Branch Avenue metro station as another exclusion zone. Council member Karen R. Toles (D-Suitland) objected but the legislation passed with Patterson’s change with nearly unanimous support.
The sole “no” vote came from Council member Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi), who was concerned about the “criminal element” mobile vendors may bring to the area as was the experience of some of her constituents years ago.
“Unfortunately, it is not based on any facts or how we run our businesses,” said Ché Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the DMV Food Truck Association. “This is the most conservative regulatory regime we’ve faced. . . .But it lays a foundation.”
Longtime Bowie residents Corries and Roxie Hardy both quit their corporate jobs after finding success selling barbecue from their truck. What started as a side job turned into a full-fledged business, but one they could not operate in their home county.
Corries Hardy testified he took “Hardy’s BBQ” to neighboring jurisdiction because the laws were so restrictive in Prince George’s but is now ready to expand.
Food truck supporters earned another victory in Montgomery County with a new law extending their operating hours from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. The old law limited them from 9 a.m. to sunset. This effectively kept vendors from serving dinner for much of the winter.
The bill as drafted was opposed by the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and the Restaurant Association of Maryland, which both contended that more comprehensive regulations were needed. They were particularly interested in rules that governed trucks’ distance from brick-and-mortar restaurants and the creation of special “food truck operating zones” such as the ones Prince George’s adopted.
Riemer said other issues will be addressed, but it was important to make the county more hospitable for these small businesses: “My plea . . . is that we allow this to take root,” he said.
Navarro noted the popularity of Arepa Zone, which started as a food truck and recently won a stall at Union Market in D.C. After passage of the bill Tuesday, Navarro said she hoped that businesses like Arepa, which offered what she called “Venezuelan comfort food” (arepas, cachapas & tequeñas) could take root in Montgomery.
“The first step is extending the hours,” she said.