The family behind Awkward Brewing wants to build a microbrewery on a plot of land across Lee Street from the Fayetteville City Hall. To clear the way for their business, the applicants are asking that the property be rezoned from R-22 (Single Family Residential) to C-1 (Downtown Historic Mixed Use).
The plot is currently occupied by two houses, two garages, and a small barn, and the main house would remain a two-unit residential apartment, the smaller ranch house would be torn down, and one of the garages would be converted into commercial restrooms.
The 1,071 square foot garage on the north side of the property would be divided in half, split between a tasting room and a microbrewery. The plan would include a tasting room and outdoor areas with seating, games, and recreation.
While it would be in the general proximity of churches, Senior Planner Julie Brown confirmed that it would be in compliance with state law.
To comply with the noise ordinance in effect daily from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., the proposed hours it would be open to the public are Thursday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The key sticking point will be the need for a variance on buffers. While the biggest chunk of the property will be in compliance with the 30-foot buffer requirement, the currently-standing garage where the brewery would be located sits only about two feet off the property line.
Amanda Poliak moved with her husband children to Fayetteville two years ago from Seattle. They had opened their own microbrewery, Awkward Brewing, there before moving to Fayetteville, and it is their dream to continue the operation here and let it be what they do the rest of their lives.
“I’m very family oriented. I’m very community oriented,” she said. “I want to make this area better, and I want to bring people together.”
She said they picked the location on the outskirts of downtown because it did not make sense for their operation to take up prime real estate on the square because a large bulk of what they do is a messy production process.
It would be a small operation, especially at the start, with just three workers, including her husband and herself, and they would brew about four times a month at the outset.
“It kind of has to start and we’ll see if we can expand and maybe potentially we have to go to a different location (later).”
Council Member Rich Hoffman wants to apply the brakes to the proposal, saying he will vote against the rezoning request when it comes time.
“I know that the applicant has been getting encouragement from staff, and the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning, however it is the responsibility of this council to oversee the growth of the city and make sure that any and all changes follow the vision we have been entrusted with by the citizens,” said Hoffman in a statement. “Although I would welcome a microbrewery or a brew pub to our city, I do not feel this location is in any way appropriate. I honestly feel the applicant did not do their due diligence before purchasing this property with regards to zoning requirements.”
City staff pushed back, saying that the use would be perfectly in line with the comprehensive plan and the future land use map.
Brown reiterated that the recently updated Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map identify Lee Street as an area optimal for “walkable mixed use.”
“This falls into walkable mixed use for this area,” she said. “If anybody else wanted to come and rezone their property, (Downtown Historic Mixed Use) is probably what we would tell them to rezone it to.”
“This is a commercial street that really has a residential feel,” she added, noting that currently Lee Street has 17 properties zoned for commercial use and six that are being used for residential only.
Downtown Development Director Brian Wismer concurred that looking at such a business in that vicinity was nothing new.
“We’ve been telling the public we want to see downtown mixed use in this area since 2004, so for over a decade we’ve been essentially telling folks this is the type of development we want to see,” he said, adding that an applicant should have every reason to believe that Downtown Historic Mixed Use is a reasonable rezoning option in the vicinity.
Council Member Kathaleen Brewer agreed that it fits in with the plan for the area, dating back at least a decade to when she ran an art center on Fisher Avenue near Lee.
“Council back then was deciding that all of this (area) would be walkable retail along that street,” she recounted.
Mayor Ed Johnson cautioned that the area may not be ready to support such a business without much foot traffic.
“For me, it’s premature,” he said. “We are master planning our downtown, and for me to take an activity, such as a microbrewery, and put it on outskirts of downtown is a risk.”
Wismer countered that the microbrewery could instead be a catalyst to bring more development to downtown.
“Things like this that happen organically and just kind of dot the landscape on the periphery I think will lead to future growth,” he said. “That’s how all this stuff eventually gets connected long term.”
Council Member Scott Stacy said that it is not the city’s place to tell someone they cannot open a business because the think it might not flourish.
“The government should not be involved in picking winners and losers in terms of businesses. That’s up to the citizens,” he said, adding he thought it would do well. “Being a father of millennials, I’ll tell you they will go there, and that’s what we’re trying to attract.”
Poliak was also not discouraged by the naysaying about the location off the main drag.
“In the craft brew world, if you build it, they will come. We’ve gone all around the world and found little breweries on the most random little streets,” she said. “People find it. Word of mouth, that’s how.”
“I’m not a drinker, but I know those craft brewery people will find you,” he said.
Stacy also noted that he has only seen support for the project online.
“I have not heard any opposition, and what I’ve seen on social media has been very positive.”
Council will formally hear the rezoning request on Thursday, September 27. Council is expected to vote on the request that night.