Madison says community fridge violates zoning, food safety rules, and demands it close

MADISON, Wis. – A community fridge in the 1000 block of E Johnson in Madison has a little more than a month to close up shop, after inspectors say it violates local zoning ordinance.

The concept, created in August, features a fridge enclosed in a wooden structure as well as an open air pantry. It’s goal was to help those in need, says Julia Levine, who hosts it.

We’re living through a time where it’s an emergency. People are hungry, so we really felt it was time for the community to step up and put together this effort,” Levine said. 

Since then, she says the effort has grown to include multiple volunteers who focus on keeping fresh food in constant rotation, while also making sure the food that’s there is safe to eat.

We have daily temperature checks to make sure the fridge is at a stable temperature,” Levine said. “We have volunteers coming and composting any food that isn’t suitable for eating anymore.”

Despite this, however, city inspectors say it violates city zoning laws – namely because it’s on a property designated as a single family home. Zoning Administrator Matt Tucker says the city’s main concerns are the fridge being kept outdoors with a power supply coming from inside the home. Furthermore, he says food pantries have rules about where they can exist and operate. 

I think it’s a disappointment,” Levine said. “I think we’ve seen an amazing outpouring of support for this fridge, both volunteers, people who come and check the temperature of the fridge daily. We have people who come drop food off pretty consistently.”

District 2 Alder Patrick Heck says he’s hopeful the organizers can work with the city to find a plan that does work.

It’s a very complex interplay of zoning, building inspection, and public health regulations and ordinances that are involved here,” Heck said. “I hope that we can figure out a new location that would be less of a problem.”

Tucker says the community fridge was given a two week warning, plus a 30 day extension, to close. If that doesn’t happen, fines could follow.

We’d like to move this fridge to a new location and the the city let us know what location *would* be suitable for this,” Levine said. “If not here, where can we put it?”