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Proposed regulations upset D.C. food truck industry

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Photo - Examiner File
Food truck advocates and an advocacy group for brick-and-mortar restaurants in D.C. agree that proposed regulations need to be clearer on the numbers.
Examiner File Food truck advocates and an advocacy group for brick-and-mortar restaurants in D.C. agree that proposed regulations need to be clearer on the numbers.
Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer

After four rounds of revisions, new regulations for street vendors are headed to the D.C. Council -- but the legislation would leave important details up to government agencies.

Food truck advocates and the advocacy group for the area's brick-and-mortar restaurants agree that the regulations need to be clearer on the numbers, namely how many food trucks can park on a block or in a designated area.

The proposed regulations, drafted by the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, divide the world in two -- areas where food trucks are free to roam and park in normal legal spaces as they do now, and areas where food trucks are known to congregate, which would have special parking spaces designated for food trucks.

Right now, parts of the city, such as Farragut Square, can see more than a dozen food trucks at a time. The proposed regulations would require a minimum of only three spaces in these regulated areas, leaving it up to government agencies to set the number of spaces in each zone.

In these selected areas, other food trucks would not be allowed to park in normal parking spaces, so food truck owners want to ensure there are enough designated spaces in these popular areas.

"I think there's a lot missing from the regulations, a lot of ambiguity and vagueness," Doug Povich, chairman of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington.

However, Povich says he does agree that reforms -- which would include a daily food truck parking lottery in regulated areas -- are necessary to cut down on congestion in areas jam-packed with food trucks.

For its part, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington wants to see more specifics in the legislation as well.

"We need a little bit more clarity," said Kathy Hollinger, the association's president. She said she would like to see no more than two or three food trucks on each side of a block.

The regulation will next move to the council's Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, run by Councilman Vincent Orange. He said he had already met with food truck owners, but that he needed to study the proposed legislation further before offering an opinion.

"Obviously, the restaurants have been here for a very long time. They've made a major investment in the city," Orange said. "At the same time, you don't want to stand in the way of emerging businesses."

Drafting legislation to satisfy these two natural enemies -- brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks -- has dragged on for years.

Restaurants are eager to see reform. Food trucks don't pay rent and can drive to customers, poaching them from nearby restaurants.

"If they don't stop it, they're going to be everywhere," said Jim Doherty, owner of downtown's Washington Deli. "There's so little barrier to entry."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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