Sidney board gets petition to let brewery expand

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star Dustin Wood, right, co-owner of the Muddy River Hops Co. brewery, addresses Sidney Town Supervisor Eugene Pigford, left, and other members of the town board at a meeting Thursday night.

The owners of a Delaware County brewery appeared before the Sidney Town Board during its regular meeting Thursday to present a petition to expand the town’s commercial zoning laws and permit the continued operation of the establishment.

The Muddy River Hops Co. was ordered to close its doors just one month after opening to the public last May, according to Dustin and Jared Wood, cousins and co-owners of the business.

An appeal to the zoning committee contesting a cease-and-desist order served by the town’s code enforcement officer was denied last month after yearlong negotiations.

“We saw this as our next and only step,” Jared said.

The petition, which was published on Change.org Monday, garnered more than 4,000 signatures by 4 p.m. Thursday and surpassed 5,000 by 9 p.m. More than 580 of the signatures were from town residents, Jared said.

Given the close proximity of their property to the boundary of the town’s commercial zone — less than 100 feet — amending the law “only makes sense,” he said.

Town Supervisor Eugene Pigford said the matter will be referred to the zoning committee for further consideration.

He reported that the zoning committee was “very close” to producing a finalized draft update to the zoning regulations. The document should be released publicly in one to two weeks, Pigford said, at which time a public hearing will be scheduled.

“Things are in flux right now,” said Councilman Frank Selleck, who oversees the committee. “There’s still a lot of homework to do.”

Reading from a prepared statement, Howard Finch, the owner of a residential property adjacent to the brewery, said, “I don’t think there’s any person who would have signed that petition if they knew the whole story.” 

He argued that the town’s residents are entitled to the protection of the zoning laws and that special accommodations should not be made for a single business.

After the meeting, the Woods denied the claim, stating that the town board was conducting an independent review of the current zoning law .

Jared, who grew up on the property, said Finch and his wife were their neighbors of 23 years.

“When we started the business, we had their blessing,” he said. 

Muddy River Hops Co. was established as a hops farm in 2012 and accumulated numerous contracts to supply hops to breweries throughout the region, Jared said.

In 2016, the company received a grant through the Delaware County Department of Economic Development to construct a hop-processing facility and purchase brewing equipment, obtaining a permit from the town of Sidney to expand the operation.

Last year, the company obtained its farm brewery license from the state Liquor Authority, according to Jared. Unless the law is amended in their favor, the brewery will be ordered to close its doors by July 24.

“This is more than a Town of Sidney issue,” Jared said. “Agritourism in Delaware County is on the rise.” 

“There’s more like us coming after,” Dustin said. “We’re the 460th farm brewery in New York. It’s not a new thing.”

In 2013, state legislators enacted the Farm Brewing Law, allowing craft brewers to operate similarly to farm wineries. Under the law, licensed farm breweries do not need additional permitting to serve beer by the glass.

As per the terms of the state-issued license, 90% of the ingredients used to brew their beer are grown in New York, Dustin said.

Ray Pucci, president of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, voiced his concerns about the precedent an unchanged zoning law would create for other aspiring agri-business enterprises in the area.

“Given our limitations — the watershed, the rural area, the declining population — Delaware County should be the most business-friendly county in the state,” he said.

“These boys grew up on that property and want to commit their futures to this community, and now they’re being told no,” Pucci said. “That’s a problem.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.