(Dec. 20, 2013) The town’s Board of Zoning Appeals granted a crucial exception last week that would allow Ocean City’s third, and likely largest, craft brewery to be established on 56th Street.
Although the project will not have enough parking per the strictures of the city’s zoning code, the brewing company successfully argued at last Thursday’s BZA hearing that the city’s parking requirement for manufacturing facilities over-estimates the actual manpower needed to run the brewing operation itself.
“To me, this is a classic situation for a special exception,” said the brewery’s attorney, Hugh Cropper. “It’s something that’s unique to this particular property and this particular use.”
If all goes according to plan, the aptly-titled OC Brewing Co. will occupy the former Adkins lumber yard on the southwest corner of Coastal Highway and 56th Street – a cavernous warehouse, that in recent years, has housed only a summer t-shirt shop in its front portion.
The final decision on the use will be made in the coming weeks, as a brewing operation is what the city classifies as a “conditional use” that must get express consent from the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council before being permitted in certain zoning districts.
First, however, the company had to secure a parking exception from the BZA due to the fact that the facility, as planned, will require 88 parking spaces under the city’s zoning code, but has only 72.
The brewery will not be doing any major exterior modifications to the space, which it is leasing, but will be doing interior renovations and constructing new walls to reconfigure the space for the new use, according to city Zoning Administrator R. Blaine Smith.
Smith said at last Thursday’s hearing that the company is applying for 9,400 square feet of manufacturing space, which must be provided with parking at a rate of one space for 400 square feet. Another 3,100 square feet will be retail for t-shirts and brewery memorabilia, which must be provided at one space per 200 square feet, and another 4,800 square feet will be for a bar and restaurant, which requires one space per 100 square feet.
All told, this comes to 88 spaces.
However, Smith noted, the code requirement for manufacturing is obviously quite broad. In the case of a brewery, 24 spaces are on the extreme high end.
“I will say that the formula is one-size-fits-all,” Smith said. “Especially when you look at different types of manufacturing, particularly wholesale or warehousing, which may not have a whole lot of employment.”
According to the company’s prospective general manager, Thom Lord, the manufacturing area will only be used by the brew master, a secretary, and four workers. Patrons of the bar will be able to view the process from behind large glass windows, as a sort of self-guided tour.
“It’s required by the state that you have a tour in order to sell retail products that you manufacture on the property,” Lord noted.
The manufacturing area, Smith estimated, will be roughly four times the size of the island’s other breweries, Shorebilly and De Lazy Lizard, both of which went in downtown earlier this year. The OC Brewing Co. will be three times larger than even Berlin’s popular Burley Oak.
But, as brewing is an economy of scale, the manufacturing side will not require that many more employees.
“It’s a 40-year-old lumber yard,” Cropper said. “This is an infill development, retrofitting and rehabbing an old building, so we’re kind of stuck with it as it is. The nature of the space is that you can’t go cut part of it off to reduce the parking requirement.”
However, the main concern of the board was not the manufacturing side, but the retail and restaurant areas. As BZA chair Al Harrison noted, the exception was contingent upon the use of the entire space. Even if Cropper considered the manufacturing portion to be the culprit of the deficiency, the impact of the other spaces must also be weighed.
“That’s a cavernous space,” Harrison said. “We need to have some assurance that the retail area is going to be retail and not shoulder-to-shoulder patrons.”
As presented, plans for the brewery did not indicate where the retail area would be or if it would have a specific layout. When queried, however, contractor Chris Lynch illustrated how a knee-height wall and columns would be used to delineate the retail area to the front of the space.
“For the sake of the product, they don’t want to have people with open containers next to white shirts,” Lynch said. “As has been explained to me, this building is a destination attraction…because of the large scale, it’s incumbent on me to break it up so you don’t feel as if you’re going into a food court or a cafeteria.”
“Seeing that the retail space was going to be defined to the front makes the difference for me,” Harrison said. “I think otherwise Mr. Cropper made a good case that the back portion of the space would not require the parking spaces given the use.”