Brewery petitions selectmen's decision to deny food trucks

Food trucks at the brewery seems a match made in beer-and-hot-dog heaven, but the town attorneys have risen to speak against the union, rather than forever hold their peace.

An opinion from the town attorneys has said the town can’t legally allow the regular parking of food trucks in the lot of the Nod Hill Brewery on Route 7 — at least, not under its current “mobile food vendors” ordinance.

“They concluded we cannot, under our ordinance, do it,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told fellow selectmen Nov. 29.

“For us to approve it, we’d have to alter the ordinance,” he said.

Since a revised ordinance was passed just a year ago, in November 2016, after a lengthy process — review and hearings, amendments and tinkering — the board wasn’t eager to revisit the regulation.

The food truck rules had been adopted in part to protect the interests of “brick and mortar” businesses — like restaurants — that are part of the town’s commercial tax base.

Under the revised ordinance, food trucks and vendor carts are prohibited from parking and doing business in a given spot for more than 15 minutes — although exceptions allow continued operations at the long-established locations of the Chez Lenard hot dog cart on Main Street and the Zwack Shack lunch truck on Route 7.

Now Nod Hill Brewery has an online petition seeking townspeople’s support for its concept

“Are you a Ridgefield resident? Would you like unique and tasty food regularly available at Nod Hill Brewery? Please sign our petition!” it says.

“We thought it would be a great idea to enhance the customer experience by providing a place for local food trucks on weekends, but unfortunately the Town of Ridgefield passed an ordinance prohibiting new food truck permits throughout the town.

“We respect their decision, but we feel that our location and our business model do not implicate the concerns that the Town had when they enacted the ban. We are seeking to have an exception built into the regulation that would allow us to provide a better experience for our customers and a safe place for food trucks to be part of the Nod Hill experience.”

Rotating taps, and trucks

The selectmen had appeared sympathetic to allowing food trucks in a private parking lot off Route 7 when the question was first put before them Nov. 8 by Nod Hill Brewery owner Rob Kaye and his attorney, Bob Jewell.

The brewery sells beer, in addition to making it, and Kaye said he wanted people to be able to eat while downing a few product samples. But he’s not interested in running a restaurant. Inviting food trucks to do business in his lot seemed an ideal solution, he said.

Kaye and Jewell also spoke of having a rotation — a different food truck each day of the week, maybe.

They told the selectmen in early November that they’d already brought the question before the Planning and Zoning Commission, which decided zoning concerns for mobile structures — like food trucks on wheels — fall under the town’s new mobile food vendor ordinance, put together and administered by the selectmen.

The Nod Hill Brewery is in Kaye’s commercial building off the west side of Route 7, a little north of Branchville —  the former Norco industrial property. The brewery takes up about 3,000 square feet of the 32,000-square-foot building, which also houses his principal business, Riverside Fence. Kaye told the selectmen Riverside employs about 45 people, and the property is 15 acres.

The selectmen appeared to be supportive — and then the town attorneys spoke up.

Jewell told The Press on Monday that he didn’t know what his client would do in the wake of the town attorney’s opinion.

“Not sure yet. It’s the vehicle that is the issue — mobility,” he said. “But that was the cool part of the idea — having different trucks come in. We will have to put our heads together and come up with something more uncool.”