Signatures needed for brewery food trucks

Food trucks at the brewery? People want to vote on it — but they’ll need a few more signatures.

Petitioners are seeking a town meeting to change town ordinances so mobile food vendors could legally set up at breweries or wineries in town. Currently, vendor trucks and carts can’t set up in one location longer than 15 minutes — with two long-standing grandfathered exceptions.

“We received a petition on the brewery,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “The petition is for an amendment to the ordinance that would allow food trucks to be located at breweries and vineyards. As far as I know, there’s only one brewery in Ridgefield, which is the Nod Hill Brewery — which doesn’t mean there couldn’t, or won’t, be more.”

The town charter says a petition signed by 2% of registered Ridgefield voters can require a public hearing and a town meeting within 45 days.

Not enough of the submitted signatures passed verification procedures by the town clerk’s office to reach the 2%.

“They need some more signatures,” Town Clerk Barbara Serfilippi said Tuesday, May 15. “They handed in 289 and they needed 364, which is 2% of 18,165 voters.”

“It’s over 360 signatures that would be needed, which was not achieved,” Marconi added. “Therefore, the Nod Hill Brewery will have to seek additional signatures to their their petition.”

“I expect they’ll get them,” said Serfilippi.

“There were a lot of people from out of town that signed it, or people who weren’t voters. Some people signed it twice. All that is stuff that we have to check.”

‘Bad timing’

Attorney Robert Jewell has represented the Nod Hill Brewery in its ongoing efforts to get approval to have food trucks at the brewery, which is located at 137 Ethan Allen Highway, off the west side of Route 7 about a quarter-mile north of Branchville.

Jewell’s efforts over the last two years have included several appearances before the selectmen, as well as the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The prohibition against vendors setting up for more than 15 minutes in a given spot dates back to a November 2016 town meeting, which amended a decades-old town ordinance. Two long-established vendors were “grandfathered” in at their locations as legal exceptions to the rule — Chez Lenard on Main Street and the Zwack Shack on Route 7.

A goal of the amendment was to protect the town’s many “brick and mortar” restaurants — which are part of the town’s commercial tax base — from low-overhead competition offered by food trucks and carts. The rule was adopted after a food truck began setting up regularly in the Party Depot parking lot, near many restaurants on Danbury Road, Route 35.

Jewell said allowing food trucks at the brewery’s location — out of sight from the road, on a fairly empty stretch of Route 7 — would be a very different proposition.

“I think we have a situation where the proposed use here does not implicate the issues that spawned the moratorium to begin with,” he said. “In this context, the food truck is actually part of a brick-and-mortar business rather than competition.”

He added, “We are more a victim of bad timing in that the brewery opened a short time after the moratorium was enacted. If we had a crystal ball, we would have participated in that process and I don’t think it would have been the slightest bit controversial.”

Founding fathers

The proposed amendment to the town’s “peddling and soliciting” ordinance that Jewell offered on behalf of the Nod Hill Brewery would allow “mobile food service operations” as permitted exceptions so long as they are “accessory to brewery or winery” — operating in conjunction with it, at the same location, and similar hours.

The permits for the mobile food vendors would be issued to the operator of the brewery or winery, or to the owner of the property housing the brewery or winery — its landlord.

Jewell said he didn’t see why the selectmen wouldn’t call a town meeting on their own, even through the petition had fallen a few signatures short after some were disqualified.

“Ideally, rather than petitioning a town meeting to get a vote on our amendment, the Board of Selectmen might see the overwhelming support for it as evidenced by the signatures and raise the issue for a vote itself. Either way, I am confident that we will get there,” Jewell said.

“It’s a great business,” he said of the brewery, “and has become somewhat of a tourist destination that ties in well with our Revolutionary roots, as history shows that our founding fathers were fueled in no small part by local brew.”