Somerville baker denied permission to bake cookies
Somerville resident Maria Winter is exactly the type of home baker that New Jersey’s new law allowing the sale of home baked goods was meant to benefit.
As a fourth-grade teacher at Holland Brook School in Readington, Winter baked pie-themed cookies for Pi Day (March 14) and graduation cookies that said ‘thank you for me’ having made a smart cookie”. Everyone loved them.
She believed she could earn a few extra dollars for her 6-year-old son’s college fund by baking cookies at home and selling them.
But Somerville got in the way.
His application for a home-based business zoning permit, which would allow him to sell the sugar cookies from his 150-square-foot kitchen, was first denied by Somerville in February.
Winter was told by borough officials that she needed a zoning waiver, pay a $1,000 application fee, deposit $4,000 in a borough escrow account, post a public notice in the newspaper and to inform all homeowners within 200 feet of his home that there would be a public hearing on his application.
“I’m really a rule follower,” Winter said. “Even though it wouldn’t be my full-time job, I wanted to get my license so I could sell to friends and colleagues who were asking for cookies. I wouldn’t say I had huge business plans, but I wanted to make sure I was doing it the right way.
Somerville’s permit process is a far cry from the state-issued two-year $100 home cooking permit. This license allows home bakers to legally sell their baked goods at home, at farmers’ markets or at events, with a maximum annual gross revenue of $50,000.
But the state first requires applicants to “comply with applicable local laws of the municipality.”
This is the roadblock that Winter had to face. She never imagined she would have to navigate a nightmarish and expensive legal maze in her own hometown.
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“It’s very confusing to me that the state says I can do something, but my city says I can’t and can’t even give me a reason,” Winter said. “It’s just frustrating, and it got even more frustrating when I started seeing people in my town getting their permits. I try to be an upstanding citizen and nothing happens. I’m just frustrated.
According to the state Department of Health website, two Somerville residents have received state cottage food operator permits.
But Somerville Borough Administrator Kevin Sluka said no violations were issued against the two operators who received their permits without borough approval.
The problem is that Somerville, like the other 564 municipalities in the state, has its own zoning law.
Under the Somerville Land Use Act, such an undertaking is not a permitted use within the residential area where winter dwells.
When he learned of the contradiction between New Jersey’s home cooking law and the borough’s zoning ordinance, Sluka recommended that the borough’s planning board review the local ordinance.
“We worked on a lot of other stuff, and I think maybe it didn’t make it to the radar,” he said.
Somerville is not the only municipality to cause indigestion among bakers. Other cities blocking home baking permits include Sayreville, Parsippany, Livingston, Hamilton, Denville, Kinnelon, Montclair, Ridgefield, Pennsauken, Pitman and Mount Ephraim, according to New Jersey Home Bakers Association co-founder Martha Rabello.
“I think, unfortunately, it’s just a case of misinformation,” Rabello said. “Once people hear about it for the first time, they think it will be like a bakery in a residential area. I don’t think they really understand the scope of what the cabin food permit is allowed to do. It’s more like a home office type situation. No one is going to open a bakery at home.
“Clients did not come to me for consultations. I wouldn’t have a storefront,” Winter said. “Everything would be made to order and all consultations would be done online. I would just be cooking in my kitchen.
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To advocate for changes at the local level, the NJHBA organized a group of bakers facing city pushback and recommended that they bring copies of the bylaws to their cities and explain to officials what the new permit entails. . The NJHBA also connects bakers with the Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit public interest law firm whose mission is to “end the widespread abuse of government power.”
“Somerville is essentially acting contrary to this new statewide regulation by having what amounts to a ban even after the statewide ban is lifted,” the attorney for the state said. ‘Institute for Justice, Rob Peccola.
The company sent a letter to the borough on May 24 demanding that local officials stop denying applications to operate food lodges, as well as stop asking applicants for thousands of dollars.
“Somerville in particular had some of the most extreme restrictions I’ve seen of requiring a full evidence hearing and $5,000 to substantiate a letter,” Peccola continued.
In October, New Jersey became the last state in the country to allow home bakers to sell their cupcakes, cookies, cakes, cake pops and more from home. It’s a big change from when bakers caught selling even a single homemade cookie could face up to $1,000 in fines.
Previously, New Jersey required home bakers to register as retail food establishments, which required renting or building a commercial-grade kitchen, paying multiple fees, and meeting hundreds of regulations pages for large commercial establishments.
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“The process Maria Winter wanted to go through was so reasonable, just seeking a $25 home business zoning permit…but she was denied that very simple process and instead had to go through a zoning hearing full-fledged, which kills an ant with a cannonball,” Peccola said.
And he has sworn to continue the fight until justice is served.
‘We will…continue to defend Ms Winter and we have not ruled out filing a complaint to do so. [If it’s] just an oversight based on outdated code, so it’s very fixable,” he continued. to the rule adopted by New Jersey, we also believe that it is an unconstitutional restriction on Ms. Winters’ liberty.
Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member of the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, having become a blogger-turned-journalist after founding her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her food, drink and fun stories, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Contact: [email protected] or @JIntersimone.