The City Council took another step toward inviting business in the downtown and surrounding area, permitting the establishment of microbreweries within the city.
Despite several inquiries about the possibility of microbreweries in Clinton, city planning staff said a definition for such establishments was not in its Land Development Ordinance (LDO). That has now changed. At the Council’s meeting Tuesday night, the board created a definition and unanimously agreed to permit microbreweries as a conditional use.
The move allows the city to apply specific zoning and permitting rules for microbreweries as well as detail provisions for microbreweries and distilleries. Microbreweries, as now defined by the city, are facilities in which beer is brewed for distribution and consumption, and which possesses the appropriate license from the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
Associated tasting rooms or restaurants for the consumption of on-site produced beer products are permitted on the premises. Only beer that is produced on the site of the microbrewery would be available for sale and consumption on site.
“This would not be products brewed off-site or products you routinely see advertised nationally. This would be the product brewed by the owner of the microbrewery on site,” Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose explained. “Microbreweries have become an increasingly important part of the landscape in North Carolina of late. There are microbreweries in cities all around the state of North Carolina.”
Based on research of other communities, city staff proposed permitting recommendations to the Planning Board of conditional use for NS-Neighborhood Shopping district, and permitted use for CB-Central Business, HC-Highway Commercial, and I-1 Light Industrial zoning.
Rose said NS zoning is normally closer to residential housing, so an “extra layer of review” was deemed appropriate, thus the conditional use designation. Towns such as Apex, Asheville, Shallotte, Clayton and Kinston have opted to permit microbreweries in the other three zoning district types, Rose pointed out.
Councilman Steve Stefanovich said he felt a conditional use permit designation should be put in place for all four zoning districts, at least for to start.
“I am excited about the fact that people are interested in investing in our community and bring another business to town,” Stefanovich said. “I think it might be wise to keep the verbiage of conditional use, at least until we get our feet on the ground and see where this leads us.”
Stefanovich said that could be amended to a permitted use at a later date. Rose concurred. Conditional use means a site-specific approval would be necessary by Council.
Alison Carr, who is an investor in a potential local downtown investor Grog Row Brewing Company, explained some obstacles with a conditional use versus permitted use.
“We would be greatly appreciative of a passing of even a conditional use permit and appreciate the nature of taking slow steps,” said Carr, who then explained the licensing process of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which requires a proprietor to already have a facility and brewing equipment in place before proceeding with TTB licensing steps.
“We would still not be able to really move forward with the investment process — finding a location and buying a building potentially — without having to come before you again for a conditional use permit approval,” Carr said. “I fear that the next step will be just turning around and coming to you for a conditional use permit.”
Carr was the only one who spoke to the issue, but fellow Grog Row Brewing investors Trey and Kristen Cummings as well as others were also in attendance. Grog Row was the former name of Vance Street, believed to have gotten that designation by being home to a number of watering holes in bygone years. The microbrewery investors have targeted the downtown, specifically Vance Street, as way of offering another reason to stay in Clinton.
“We would not even really be able to invest in a building downtown until we would know if it would be permitted downtown,” Carr said. “Then we would have to proceed with purchasing the building, then the TTB licensing process.”
Councilman Neal Strickland asked whether an option to purchase a building would work. Carr said she believed a lease or ownership interest had to be verified, then the brewing equipment put in place.
“It’s a fairly large investment,” she said. “That’s one thing about craft breweries. There’s a large investment with a lot of risk obviously, but the partnership with the local government is always important for these things that I think are a growing industry in North Carolina and the United States.”
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