May Take the Landscape by Storm
By: M. Callahan
In October 2014, Fairfax County established new rules for food trucks that will allow them to operate at office parks and shopping centers, including Tysons, the Mark Center, and Reston, where hundreds to thousands of new employees are searching (according to the county) for lunchtime options. Here is a case where high capacity office buildings are being built and occupied well in advance of retail support.
The zoning rules now make it significantly easier for food trucks to do business in the county, permitting them to operate at commercial and industrial properties like office buildings, shopping centers and construction sites according to the county, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who eagerly authorized the new rules. After all, it quiets the office
workers need for a lunch time feed, and it generates a number of grateful new entrepreneurs.
The first truck appeared in Annandale’s Giant Food parking lot, just five days after the BOS plan approval. It is highly doubtful that the property owner was even aware of the truck’s presence, let alone gave permission for use of the property. This truck’s goal was not to feed office or construction workers, as there are none at this location. Instead, taking an unbelievably inexpensive route to disturbing the livelihoods of our local businesses, and their employees, this food truck stood in direct competition with 5 other restaurants, all working hard to build a permanent customer base.
In a press release announcing the changes, Fairfax County Chairman, Sharon Bulova commented,
“I am pleased that our Board has proactively engaged the food truck industry to make it easier for food trucks to operate in Fairfax County. Food trucks are particularly popular for workers and residents in more urban areas, and I expect to see more of them operating a popular destinations such as Tysons, Mosaic District, Reston Town Center, and the newly renovated Springfield Mall. Food trucks offer a convenient dining choice and a new compliment to Fairfax County’s dining experiences.”
Previously, food trucks were zoned as free standing fast-food restaurants, and this classification required them to obtain a special exception from the Board of Supervisors. These exceptions required a $16,375-fee, plus two public hearings.
Now, trucks may light up their stoves with vastly reduced obligations, and just these few permits and permissions:
A most important issue to examine is the amount of business these food trucks will take away from brick and mortar restaurants? After all, it is the brick and mortar restaurants that invest huge financial sums in opening their establishments, who employ the local populace, who sponsor the local Little League teams, and who imbed themselves in our community events. Do you think the eleven eateries at the new Mosaic District would have invested their life savings and their dreams into these establishments, if they knew food trucks would soon be monopolizing their lunchtime customers? Restaurants can not continue to operate with only dinner service revenues. In many instances, such as in mixed-use developments (Mosaic being an example), they must generate both lunch and dinner revenue in order to survive.
Annandale, through her revitalization efforts has been attempting to convince family friendly restaurants (Panera, Corner Bakery, La Madeleine, Noodles & Company) to open in Annandale. As could be anticipated, they are NOT interested in investing the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to open a restaurant, if they watch a sea of food trucks operating in the parking lot across the street. These food trucks are counter-intuitive to revitalization; they are only useful in areas with sudden growth spurts and instant populations. Annandale does not qualify.
Since the new regulations only apply to private property, food trucks may still not park on public roads to sell food (a frequent violation). This continues to be prohibited by the state, although many food trucks have been selling while positioned in parking spots along roadways that accommodate parking on both sides. An example is Solutions Drive outside Booz Allen Hamilton headquarters in McLean. Not long ago, as many as eight food trucks regularly solicited business there until one day a fracas broke out between one individual who had been saving a prime space with his personal vehicle, and a competitor who took exception to this initiative. Eventually the police were called and all eight food trucks were evicted. It is fair to say that competition is fierce and territorial. Fairfax County Code, 82-1-30 prohibits sales from,
“Vehicles parked along any road, highway or street, said Police Captain Michael Grinnan, commander of the Traffic Safety Division. Vending along roads poses a danger to other motorists and pedestrians.”
However, the next question is where are these food trucks parking when off duty? No arrangements have been made by the county to provide municipal parking where trucks and personal vehicles can be swapped each day. (Any room left at the Government Center?) Residential streets are off-limits; residential drive-ways are off limits; and, most residential garages are not high enough to accommodate these trucks.
In Annandale, with such a large number of service related businesses, our residential streets have already been inundated with commercial vehicles. Legality is currently too broad and based on the size of the vehicle, not the use. What will food trucks add to the mix? Or, will they migrate to parking on much needed commercial streets, denying patron parking for restaurants and eateries? Will they be taking up residence in the complimentary garages built by developers to promote new shopping and dining projects, while robbing more customers of parking spaces?
This new county promotion has not addressed off duty parking at all. Here again is another unfunded mandate, which is strictly complaint driven. Any violations that arise, whether illegally operating the truck or illegal parking, will require citizens to file complaints, and wait for action. Enforcement then falls on the shoulders of an overburdened police department, and the Office of Code Compliance, already complaint driven and swamped.
The county does plan to review the pros and cons of this new initiative in one year. Why, oh! why, did they not first establish a trial period before visiting difficulties on the rest of us? Why not license trucks exclusively to the few known areas which could benefit, rather than turning the fleet loose throughout the county?
To register a complaint about illegally parked commercial vehicles
Call Complaints: 703-691-2131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Food Trucks & Other Commercial Vehicles
Commercial vehicles are prohibited from utilizing residential streets as their personal parking lot, or commercial streets for long term parking, or to perform what is known as a vehicle swap….leaving their personal vehicle for the work hours while picking up their commercial vehicle, and then reversing the process at the end of the work day.
Ravensworth Road, and any street adjacent to a town house community, have been particularly hard hit with this practice. One home decorating firm regularly parks as many as five vans (with their company slogan) each evening and every weekend along Ravensworth. Unfortunately, some vehicles, used exclusively for commercial purposes & insured for commercial purposes, slide under the vehicle size limit; while robbing residents of much needed residential parking because these businesses are too irresponsible and selfish to pay for appropriate parking. NOTE: If you run a business, don’t alienate your customer base by taking their parking.
Prohibited vehicles: more than 21 feet long, more than 102 inches in width, or more than 8 feet in height. The length restriction would include any paraphernalia attached such as landscaping trailers. The height restriction includes vans and pick-up trucks that include rooftop cargo such as roof racks, ladders, or PVC pipes. Vehicles carrying commercial freight in plain view, 18 wheelers, vehicles with a gross weight of 12,000 pounds or greater, and dump trucks are also restricted from parking on residential streets 7 in residential driveways, and now on certain commercial streets as indicated by local signage, such as Daniels Ave, Annandale.
Vehicles exempt from these size and weight limits are: commercial vehicles used by public service companies, watercraft or motor home, school buses, vehicles driven by or used for transporting persons with disabilities, vehicles for cable television service, moving vehicles for 48 hours, and vehicles for propane gas service. However, many homeowners associations restrict these vehicles further and are entitled to do so. Because these rules allow for so many loop holes, and because of so many offenders, Mason District Supervisor, Penny Gross has queried her constituency about establishing far stricter restrictions in this District.
Tickets are issued by the Fairfax County Police, Traffic Safety Division. The fine for illegal commercial vehicles parked on residential streets has been increased from $25 to $100 per occurrence. For further information go to the County website at www.fairfaxcounty.gov and look up Changes to Section 82-5-7 of the Fairfax County Code.