Food Trucks. Everyone loves them, right? Well, not exactly. They certainly have become very trendy in recent years. They are no longer just purveyors of hot dogs, ice cream, and pretzels. Many operators are using them to enter the food and beverage industry at a less capital-intensive level with the added benefits of reaching different markets and having flexibility. What was once a common sight in cities, think Philadelphia or along the Mall area in Washington D.C., food trucks have grown in number and improved quality and selection. It is now possible to enjoy Greek food, seafood, barbeque, waffles, and much more from the side of a truck. Food trucks have expanded into the suburbs and can be found in Howard County in the parking lots of service stations, in office parks, at festivals and special occasion events, and even on residential streets in the Village of River Hill.
You may have seen chatter on Facebook, NextDoor, and social media sites about the presence of food trucks in our community. They are a topic that the association’s Board of Directors has been hearing about lately. While the association has learned that food trucks have been present on several streets in the community over the last 6 – 7 months, specific concerns have been raised about the trucks parked on Empty Song Road on Friday evenings. These trucks, and likely others in the area, have been arranged by residents living in the neighborhood, not the community association. From what the Board has learned, residents have arranged for the trucks to provide a way to stay connected with friends and neighbors during the pandemic, support small businesses that are struggling to make it in the current environment, offer food options that supplement those available locally, and to generally create a little fun and lift spirits. However, for some residents the experience is wearing thin and others have raised concerns worthy of consideration.
COVID-related issues, vehicular and pedestrian safety, and the impact on adjoining and surrounding properties are some of the issues mentioned. Another concern is what happens when things return to “normal?” Will the trucks continue to come now that they know the market exists? Will uninvited trucks decide to park in other parts of the village and establish an ongoing presence? How many trucks in how many locations are ok? The association has learned, the county does not have restrictions on food trucks parking in residential neighborhoods provided they are legally parked, have valid tags and are operable, and there is adequate access for emergency vehicles.
At the January 4 meeting of the Board of Directors, many River Hill residents shared their views, both pro and con, on the matter. There were many good suggestions, like relocating the trucks to other streets in the community, using the pool parking lot, and forming a committee to work on the issue. In a perfect world, the logical step might be for the association to take over responsibility for organizing food truck nights on a regular basis. This is an option. However, staff time and the related financial costs are factors that require evaluation, especially given pandemic-related budget constraints. Last summer, association staff did investigate holding a food truck event at the pool parking lot. At the time, CA was not issuing any license agreements for use of its Open Space and that ended that idea. There is good news. CA is considering permitting ice cream and food trucks at the pools this summer and they are developing a license agreement that addresses COVID.
Before making any decisions, the Board of Directors wants to hear from residents who have not already shared their opinions on having food trucks in the community. If you have suggestions or would be willing to serve on a committee to investigate options and/or organize food truck events, let us know. The best way to provide your input is to submit it by February 19 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s work together to find ways to build community while staying safe and being considerate of one another.