Whether you love ‘em, or hate ‘em, food trucks are establishing a foothold in the region, bringing a variety of food selections for their patrons. While in downtown Washington for a meeting recently, I was fascinated to see a fleet of food trucks along one block, each truck with a line of hungry office workers. Amazingly, the lines were orderly and self-policed, as people sidled up to order their favorite ethnic fast food. Some then hurried back to their offices; others found spots on nearby park benches.
The challenge for local governments is how to regulate the mobile kitchens, which appear to be several levels above the older ones that sell hot dogs, chips, and sodas. With the massive redevelopment of Tyson’s and the planned opening of the Silver Line METRO later this year, there is interest from office workers and vendors in permitting food trucks in that urban area. The zoning work plan recently approved by the Board of Supervisors identifies food trucks as an issue for review and staff recommendations.
At the same time, the Fairfax County Park Authority has initiated a pilot program to permit food trucks in certain Fairfax County parks, including Mason District Park and Pine Ridge Park, areas where there are many athletic activities and other events that draw crowds. The program would establish requirements and procedures for licensing food trucks to operate at a designated pad site in each park. The requirements include daily cleanup of trash and restrictions on noise levels. Other standards may apply, and appropriate permits (e.g. Health Department, business license) must be obtained. The deadline for applications was Friday, June 21.
Many years ago, some parks, including Mason District Park, had concession stands built into the properties, but vendors could not afford to maintain the “brick and mortar” concept, and the stands eventually closed. In subsequent years, there were many complaints about unauthorized food trucks setting up in parks on the weekends, and enforcement was very difficult. In one memorable situation, multiple food trucks set up in Roundtree Park every Sunday. The line for food was so long that regular park users could not access the recreational activities. Vendors actually designated one of their numbers to direct traffic coming in from Annandale Road. It became a de facto fast food drive-thru! The Park Authority’s new licensing process provides for additional control and enforcement, which did not exist previously, and limits the number of trucks, according to their website.
The Park Authority has the jurisdiction to set regulations for activities on the properties they own or administer, independently from other agencies, including the Board of Supervisors. The proposed process is new and, as with any new process, it will be interesting to see how the outcomes might be evaluated after a few months of serving the public. No date has been set for implementation of the program, which food trucks will be selected, or when service will begin.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.