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Board to Consider Extending Parking Limit for Food Trucks

by ARLnow.com March 11, 2013 at 11:00 am 26 Comments

Seoul Food truck serves up Korean cuisine(Updated at 12:55 p.m.) Food trucks in Arlington would be allowed to remain in one spot for up to two hours, under an ordinance change set for County Board consideration this Saturday.

Under the current ordinance, known as Chapter 30, food trucks are only allowed to remain parked for up to one hour. After that, they must move — but the current ordinance is vague and doesn’t specifically say how far they must move. Also, the ordinance contains contradictory language that can be interpreted as suggesting there is no time limit.

Food truck owners argue that the 60 minute limit hurts their business, as it can force them to shut down and move in the midst of the breakfast or lunch rush, even when customers are lined up. Since the trucks frequent busy Rosslyn, Ballston and Crystal City, that often means spending valuable sales time searching for a new parking space.

Food truck owners, fed up with getting ticketed for loitering when they refused to move, recently started mounting legal challenges against the ordinance, attacking the vague language. Last month they succeeded in getting prosecutors to drop loitering charges against one truck that was ticketed after police said it didn’t move “far enough.”

At the time, county officials acknowledged that the ordinance caused challenges for food vendors.

“We realize that the 60-minute time limit is challenging for vendors and for customers, and we are working to change it,” Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius told ARLnow.com.

True to that promise, county staff is now proposing that the food truck parking limit be raised to “the lesser of two (2) hours or the lawful time limit prescribed for the respective parking meter zone.” After that, the a food truck must only move to another marked parking space or 25 feet in the absence of marked spaces.

The County Board is set to vote to advertise a hearing on the proposed ordinance change on Saturday. After the hearing, to be held on April 20, the Board would then vote on whether to actually change the ordinance.

The one hour street vending limit was set in 2008, after the County Board voted to raise the limit from 5 minutes. From the county staff report:

Since those changes in 2008, there has been continued growth in vendors — mobile food trucks, carts and tables have increased in populated areas of Arlington. Social media has assisted with marketing for vendors, and customers have flocked to them. Today, Arlington has approximately 100 licensed mobile food vendors. The increased popularity of the mobile food vendors has raised questions about the regulations, including the amount of time permitted for vending, appropriate locations for vending, and the overall enforcement of Chapter 30.

Chapter 30’s current language has made it difficult for vendors, does not accommodate customers appropriately, and creates an enforcement challenge. Enforcement is time consuming and the ordinance does not provide clear-cut specificity. Additionally, a thorough reading of the ordinance highlighted an issue in which the construct of the language in Section 30-9 allows for a departure from the original intent of a time limitation for vending to a permissive allowance of vending anywhere, with no time limitation, so long as the vending occurs between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.

“This interim amendment addresses several inconsistencies and is just one element of the comprehensive updates that will benefit all of Arlington’s businesses and customers,” said Arlington Economic Development spokeswoman Cara O’Donnell. “As we move forward in the process, we’ll be having conversations with all stakeholders for input.”

An association of local food truck owners say they’re happy with the county’s proposal.

“The Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington is extremely pleased that Arlington is continuing its efforts to make the County a place where small businesses like ours can grow,” said Doug Povich, owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck. “Of all the jurisdictions in the area, Arlington seems to understand best how manage the various interests of all stakeholders in a way that benefits everyone. We look forward to continuing our work with the County as it is moves into the next stage of its regulatory process.”

  • James Moron

    Food trucks are wonderful for Arlington even if they shake up the status quo with brick and mortar restaurants. If a restaurant can’t bring a compelling reason for a customer to dine inside the establishment (or even for take out), they have officially lost the competition. Artificial barriers – at the expense of better, cheaper more interesting options for consumers – is a loser strategy. Interesting restaurants don’t view them as competition – it’s the anonymous sandwich shops that are undifferentiated that feel the pain.

    I’m not anti-chain at all, but revel in seeing an empty Cosi while the trucks outside are packed (in Ballston). I’ll take a fresh taco over processed turkey any day.

    I understand the arguments…low/no overhead, lower contribution to the employment and tax base. Ultimately, the county should embrace this in our “urban village” and stop being arbitrary and anti-competitive.

    • Jeff

      We should also let people spread blankets out in parking spaces and sell clothing, furniture, groceries, butcher meats, provide haircuts. Let’s turn all of Arlington into a free enterprise zone. If there is a public space, you can use for yourself to make a living by selling whatever the market demands.

      • James Moron

        If they have a vending permit, pay the parking and appropriate taxes, go get ’em

      • ARL

        Haircut trucks. That’s an idea.

        • Jake

          Cut by girls in bikinis.

        • dan

          No kidding…I saw one at McPherson Square about a month ago.

  • Andy

    A move of 25 feet seems just bizarre to me. Why not have a longer time and a longer distance?

    • Zachinder

      Why not a shorter time and a shorter distance? Why not a longer time and shorter distance? Why not a short time and longer distance?

      Because you’ve got to decide on something.

      • dm

        They don’t have to decide on anything. Parking meters are already designated with a maximum time limit.

        • speonjosh

          Yeah, but those time limits weren’t designed with food trucks in mind.

          • dm

            The stickers on the meter say “All may park. All must pay” … Food trucks park.

  • South Awwlington

    This is great news…I just hope they don’t all clump together like they do DC. Spread out a little and give people some options. Don’t park in one long like (like along Mass Ave and N Capitol) and in front of the Dubliner. That’s more than a little disrespectful.

    • speonjosh

      Actually, I suspect that this is exactly what the county will move towards. It makes quite a bit of sense in DC to have them congregate where the market is biggest. I think Arlington should do the same – in a commercial area with high foot traffic, away from residential neighborhoods, etc.

      • South Awwlington

        The population piece makes sense…but it is a little unfair to the brick and mortars when 10 new options set up camp across the street from your biz day in and out. Perhaps a designated location not in direct competition with brick and mortars?

        • Josh S

          Haven’t you ever seen a McDonald’s across the street from a Burger King? Gas stations are frequently clustered.

          The government is not in the business of preserving existing businesses over new ones. Or businesses with a particular business plan over other business plans.

          Supposedly, we have a free enterprise system. Except for extreme cases like monopoly, there is little in the way of “fair” that is to be preserved by government intervention. Especially when the overall public good may be served by allowing competition to flourish – as it likely is in this case.

          Finally, the “fairness” argument, although I strongly believe it is irrelevant anyway, has no merit. Please name a “brick and mortar” restaurant that went out of business as a result of food trucks.

          • South Awwlington

            I don’t think the owners of restaurants in Crystal City and Rosslyn would agree with you. Most have been in place 5-10 years and some maybe more. While not all of them have paid their taxes (see various ARLNOW articles) many have. Many have also been the part of the neighborhood fabric for years. This includes volunteer efforts at events like the Marine Corp Marathon, Va; PTA events at Oakridge Elementary School, 1K Wine Walk, etc.

            Additionally, companies consider their location and competition when evaluating business sites. So….all the sudden that changes when you show up to open your restaurant and there are five food trucks lining the street in front of your business?

            I don’t disagree that competition is good. I do think that the same financial constraints should be in place to ensure a level playing field – ie rent, utils, labor, etc – you know…the cost of doing business.

  • ERoss

    If I were a foodtruck operator, I’d just park in a space next to another truck, and have an agreement that after 60 minutes, or 2 hours or whatever, to swap spots. Your line wouldn’t have to change much. If you can’t find a spot next to a truck, then keep looking until you find one. The only way to deal with these issues is to work together to follow the rules.

    Also, a sidenote, finding a parking space would drive me crazy… it does enough already…

    • Steve1855

      Logistically that’s hard to do. It requires securing your cooking/prep area good enough to move the vehicle, even for a short distance, and often they use external generators that need to be disconnected, etc. That’s easily a 15 minute process for each truck, right in the middle of their lunch shift, mean while all your customers that were in line go to another establishment since they don’t have time/patience to wait.

  • GoodOmens

    Now to tackle the stupid Ballson BID truck that blocks a spot on N Stuart every Tuesday.

    Seems hypocritical Arlington will care so much about food trucks but let this waste of time and money occupy a spot every Tuesday for several hours….

  • dm

    How awesome is it that the county board has time & effort to micro-manage this?

    • speonjosh

      “Micro-manage” this? Have you ever been to a board meeting? Getting into the details is what they do. Which makes complete sense since they are the local government. Who else should be making the decision? Or are you suggesting a free-for-all?

      • dm

        The Supreme Court doesn’t hear every case.

        • Josh S

          It’s a local legislative body making public policy decisions.
          The Supreme Court is a federal judicial body.

          Apples and oranges.

          • Dm

            … It’s about choosing what issues to consider, Josh. Existing policy or law can be sufficient. Tinkering with existing law/policy just because they can – and not on merit – is the problem.

  • Texas Aggie 1966

    Stupid laws should be thrown out completely. Who cares how long they park? It’s just another example of the control of a business. They only need to control that they are serving food in a clean environment.

  • fongsway

    Really Arlington.. stop hassling the food trucks! It’s what put Austin’s food scene on the map.. and while we have some good restaurants.. we could use some variety too!
    Keep Arlington weird.. ? Now there’s a thought!


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