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The owners hope to build an outdoorsy brand with hiker amenities and music, but neighbors aren't so enthusiastic.
Saturday, August 3, 2013
In the world of craft beer, business is about more than production. It's about building a brand around your brew, casting your product as a piece of a lifestyle.
But the owners of the soon-to-be brewing Flying Mouse Brewery in Botetourt County are finding the mix of the industrial with the kind of on-site activities they want isn't necessarily compatible with what their neighbors want, or with what zoning ordinances allow.
Those differences came to a head at the July meeting of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors when Frank Moeller sought zoning changes to allow him to offer services for through-hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail and set up an outdoor music venue on his 15-acre site off Valley Road near Daleville. The brewery is in an old precast concrete products plant.
After hearing a series of speakers in opposition, the board voted down a request for a change in proffered conditions to allow showers, laundry, charging stations and shelter for hikers. And a rezoning request that would allow both the music venue and an expansion of the brewing operation was tabled for up to 90 days.
"They're just unfamiliar," said Moeller. The craft beer scene "is really kind of a culture" with which many don't have any experience.
The situation highlights how the peculiar combination of manufacturing, retail and even entertainment uses on the same site common to craft breweries isn't often contemplated by local laws. Zoning ordinances tend to cluster similar uses together - industries in one area, retail in another, and residential apart from both of those.
"You see a lot of these municipalities who just don't know where craft breweries fit," said Mike Killelea, chairman of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild.
With Flying Mouse, Moeller had envisioned the cultivation of an image that played to beer drinkers with an outdoorsy lifestyle. It's a common combination these days, evinced by popularity of "pub runs" where runners end a workout with a bar gathering, or the juxtaposition of the River Rock climbing gym in Roanoke and the adjacent Wasena City Tap Room.
"We're really trying to gauge our brewery to be something on the opposite end of the couch potato mentality," Moeller said.
With the Applachian Trail passing within a quarter mile of the brewery, Moeller though it would be good to make use of an empty Quonset hut there as an overnight shelter, and to add secure storage, phone charging stations, showers, and laundry facilities. That could spread word of his beer - and Botetourt County - up and down the almost 2,200 miles of the Georgia-to-Maine trail.
The idea for the music venue came from the recognition that part of the site was a kind of natural amphitheater, surrounded by wooded hills. Moeller said music events would not be large scale and would happen only every month or two between March and October.
Neither use would come online for another year or two, said Moeller. The brewery needs to begin making and selling beer first, he said.
But at the supervisors' meeting, numerous neighbors of the brewery showed up. While most said they have no objection to the brewery opening, and they recognized that Moeller can also operate a retail "taproom" at the brewery by right, they drew the line at the hiker services and the music venue.
Most concerns involved adding more traffic to Valley Road, which all said was already a treacherous road. It's narrow and winding, often used as a cut-through between U.S. 220 and U.S. 11.
"I'm just afraid the venue will increase traffic and add the alcohol element to an already bad road," said Peggy Combs, a Valley Road resident, in an interview this week. She's also concerned concerts at the site would be loud.
Bland Painter, another Valley Road resident, said he supports new business in the county, including the brewery.
"It's possible to carry out those activities ... and be unobtrusive to the neighborhood, he said. "On the other hand, a retail component ... is highly incompatible and disrespectful to the neighborhood."
Painter also noted that the position of an industrial facility in an otherwise residential area was something that developed over time, and likely would never be allowed were it to happen today.
The supervisors opted to table the rezoning that would allow the music venue, and in doing so seemed to be in search of a way to not get in the way of the brewery's possible expansion, which can only happen with the rezoning, but not necessarily allowing the music venue.
But the zoning ordinance as written didn't allow them to easily split the uses.
Killelea, of the brewers guild, said issues like the one in Botetourt aren't uncommon, especially as the number of craft brewers in the state has grown and they've cropped up all across the commonwealth. There are more than 60 in operation now, including 15 or 20 that have opened in the last two years, he said.
The Virginia General Assembly opened the way for more last year when it allowed breweries to sell beer on their premises without also operating a restaurant - a requirement for other alcohol sellers.
Nearby, Parkway Brewing Co. opened this year in Salem, and it had a zoning hiccup of its own. An expansion of Parkway's taproom put the brewery in violation of its zoning.
The Salem City Council resolved the matter by approving the brewery for a "use not provided for" in the zoning ordinance.
That allowed Salem to remain welcoming to a new business, and a new kind of industry, without make a change to its zoning ordinance.
And while one brewery doesn't constitute a trend, Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess said that if another brewery wanted to locate in the city, "if it's something we want to have a place for and encourage, it would be helpful to have the zoning code address it."
Richmond reached that tipping point earlier this year. With a zoning ordinance that was unfriendly to craft breweries, and with business opening in neighboring counties because of that, its city council made a change.
In March, the Richmond council voted to allow small brewers and distillers to locate in areas zoned for light industrial use.
Craft brewing "is driving a lot of growth in certain areas of the state, a lot of jobs, a lot of tax revenue," Killelea said. And the mix of industrial and retail is part and parcel of the business model.
A brewery can survive without the taproom, but having that element accelerates the growth dramatically, he said.
Moeller will have his taproom by right. And he may yet get the rezoning. If the music venue is the stumbling block, he can proffer that he won't build it. He has until October to sort that out, or just withdraw the petition.
Meanwhile, he hopes to start brewing beer by the end of the month.
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