by Cuneyt Dil
Current Newspapers correspondent
This article appears in the August 3, 2016 edition of the Northwest Current (download the newspaper here). We reprint it with permission from Current Newspapers.
Food trucks have brought a diversity of lunch options for office workers in Van Ness. But neighborhood leaders are also hearing from brick-and-mortar stores that are seeing business suffer as their four-wheeled foes feed growing slices of the town’s lunchtime demand.
A meeting last month between community members, food truck owners and restaurateurs – though sparsely attended – was the first attempt at bringing competing groups together.
“We want our neighborhood to be a place where people are drawn to, that offers diverse services [and] diverse cuisine,” Shirley Adelstein, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F, said in an interview. “However, we are also very, very committed to increasing businesses to open up shop in Van Ness. Our message is: Van Ness is open to business.”
Adelstein said she hosted the meeting on July 13 to learn more about the regulatory process for food trucks and start a conversation. Local businesses began contacting ANC 3F, which includes Van Ness, North Cleveland Park and Forest Hills, several months ago about the influx in food trucks.
On any day during peak hours, there can be four to eight trucks, mainly parked on Connecticut Avenue between Veazey Terrace and Windom Place NW, according to Uzay Turker, owner of Acacia Bistro at 4340 Connecticut Ave. NW. He wanted to know if there were any limits on the number of food trucks that could park in an area.
Representatives from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs said an area could establish a Vending Development Zone to cap the number of trucks. Without that official zone, trucks are allowed to park like any personal vehicle.
Some say the threat of extra regulations could drive food trucks away. Sameer Hajher, owner of the Kabob King food truck, said after the community meeting that his “vibe is that restaurants want to pull down food trucks.” He said he’s been coming to Van Ness for around a year.
“In the beginning, [business] was a little bit slow, but it’s getting better,” he said.
For Adelstein, it’s about finding a balance. A vending zone, which would give greater control for the neighborhood to decide where food trucks can park, could “be a tool in our economic development toolbox,” she said.
One small compromise has already occurred. Calvert Woodley Wines & Spirits, at 4339 Connecticut Ave. NW, had become a popular point for food trucks to park outside, to the point where lines would trample the store’s lawn. But the executive director of Van Ness Main Street, Theresa Cameron, said the “food trucks graciously moved” to the other side of Connecticut Avenue after being asked.
Cameron, whose group is tasked with attracting businesses and improving the neighborhood’s look, said she’s looking for ways all sides can work together to support Van Ness. She said Main Streets is employing a restaurant consultant to deliver a report on the area’s dining scene by mid-September.
Adelstein said there are no immediate plans for another meeting on the food truck topic, or for pushing forward with a vending zone, but she added: “We still have a lot to learn about.”
© Current Newspapers.