As D.C. food truck operators comb through the latest round of vending regulations to see how they will impact their future on the streets — negatively, some feel — curbside vendors received some hopeful news in Arlington. The county has proposed doubling the vending hours for food trucks.
In a report forwarded to the Arlington County Board on Friday, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommended interim changes to the vending ordinance known as Chapter 30. As mobile vending has grown in the county, the law has caused headaches for food truck owners, their customers and even the commonwealth's attorney, who last month asked a judge to dismiss a criminal loitering charge against Seoul Food D.C. because the ordinance was too vague to enforce.
Among the proposed changes to Chapter 30 is one that would not only allow vehicles to sell food for two hours, but also to set up and break down their mobile kitchens before and after that two-hour vending window. What's more, if truck operators want to vend longer than two hours, they could move to the nearest legal parking space and reset the clock. (Or if there are no marked parking spaces, they could move their truck 25 feet and continue vending.)
The report also recommends giving the county manager the flexibility to create street vending zones on the land specifically defined as "Metro Station Areas." The current code allows such vending zones only within a 1,200-foot radius of Metro stations.
"It’s like night and day compared to D.C.,” says Doug Povich, co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound DC truck and chairman of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington. Arlington County is "very welcoming of food trucks as small businesses…as incubators of small businesses.”
The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington declined to comment on the proposed changes until the organization had more time to review the recommendations.
Jill Griffin, commercial development specialist for Arlington Economic Development, says her office has been meeting with all groups with a vested interest in regulating vending, whether business improvement districts, food truck owners or restaurant representatives. The county, Griffin says, sees food trucks and other street vendors as part of the retail landscape in Arlington, but acknowledges that "we are not without challenges" similar to the District's ongoing issues between food trucks and bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
As noted in Friday's report to the board, "Generally, all agree that a vibrant and active streetscape is good for the community and that vending can play a role in this activity. The disagreement among the stakeholders is around how vending is regulated and managed."
To address the larger issues around street vending — and how to best manage public space for food trucks, bricks-and-mortar businesses, public transportation and all others that use it — the county is undertaking a study of "commerce in the public realm," notes Cara O'Donnell, public relations manager for Arlington Economic Development. The study will assist the county with more comprehensive changes to Chapter 30, she says.
In the meantime, the recommended changes are a "very quick and interim fix" to close some loopholes and fix other issues identified by the county, Griffin says. The county had already amended the ordinance in 2008, when officials extended the vending period from five minutes to one hour. But an apparent summer crackdown on the one-hour limit revealed the limitations and ambiguities of the law.
Griffin says the interim fixes have little to do with the battles between food trucks and law-enforcement over time limits.
Back in 2008, when the county extended the vending period to one hour, "we realized it was a challenge for consumers of food trucks," Griffin says. "This has been a longer-term process" to address the county's vending laws.
The Arlington County Board is expected to rule on Saturday whether to hold a public hearing on April 20 over the interim fixes to the vending ordinance. If there is little resistance, the board could vote on the recommended amendments, which would then immediately take effect.