The Rawlings Blake administration is proposing new regulations for the citys rapidly growing food truck industry setting up zones for the mobile chefs to sell their designer grilled-cheese sandwiches, spicy tacos and decadent cupcakes.The legislation, which a City Council committee will consider Tuesday, was written to encourage the vendors while also limiting where they operate to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants.But some truck operators expressed concern the new limits would hurt their business, and the citys proposal was in flux Monday night. A city official said the administration might amend the plan to allow trucks to operate outside the zones as well.Under current rules, the trucks can operate throughout the city. They are prohibited only from selling within 300 feet of an existing eatery.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the legislation is the citys effort to adopt comprehensive regulations for the industry, which has operated under the current, temporary rules since 2011. By setting up zones, she said, the city is trying to encourage an expansion of food trucks while eliminating tension between the trucks and traditional restaurants.What we have is a burgeoning industry that is adding vitality to our communities,Rawlings Blake said. One of the goals is to reduce any potential friction between two industries wed like to see continue to succeed.Some truck owners have criticized the plan as overly vague. They point out that the city has not established where the zones will be and has not released the rules of a proposed lottery to determine which trucks can go where. I m still a little bit concerned about the ambiguity of this bill, said Christopher Cherry, who operates the Charm City Gourmet food truck.Food trucks arent exactly a new concept. Lunch wagons have long been a constant presence at construction sights. But the modern food truck craze, which began in Los Angeles with gourmet taco trucks, hit Baltimore in 2009, with the debut of Koopers Chowhound Burger Wagon, a spinoff from a Fells Point restaurant with a reputation for good hamburgers.
Today, there are 20 member trucks in the Maryland Mobile Food Truck Vendors Association, which represents food trucks on legislative issues and collaborates on marketing ventures. There are other licensed food trucks in Baltimore that aren't members of the association.Doug Schmidt, principal at the Chesapeake Real Estate Group, which owns the Bagby Building in Harbor East, said he supports regulations on the trucks. He said sales at the Bagby Pizza Co. in his building were hurt when food trucks parked directly outside. We did have some concerns with food trucks parking right in front of our restaurants, he said. Bagby Pizza had a real negative impact. I think food trucks are good, but I think its reasonable to regulate them. They went from being part of the fabric of the city to a real nuisance to certain businesses. One doesn't have to exist to the detriment of the other. We need to make sure [the legislation] is fair on how the zones will be distributed, said Willy Dely, a past president of the Maryland Mobile Food Vendors Association. Dely, who works for Koopers Chowhound Burger Wagon, said food truck operators were pressing for a system along the lines of a fantasy football draft. You pick your spots in order of preference, Dely said. We believe this is very important.