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City Planners Mull How to Regulate Microbreweries in New North Park Plan

No one seems to have known back in the 1980s, when its community plan was last updated, that North Park would become a hub for microbreweries and other small-batch creators. Planners are working to incorporate a zoning change in the new update that would accommodate future businesses.

If city planners in the 1980s could have read the tea leaves – or the beer suds, if you will – they might have known North Park would become a destination for microbreweries and other small-batch makers of food and drink.

But they didn’t.

The Greater North Park Community Plan on the books today doesn’t contemplate the existence of microbreweries or its artisan brethren, like bakeries, coffee roasters and candy makers. So unless a proposed zoning change is included in the update, the plan could effectively ban future microbreweries in the neighborhood.

While the blueprint on the books now, which was approved in 1986, ponders current-day issues like density and neighborhood character, the closest it gets to describing North Park’s burgeoning craft beer and food scene is a desire to foster “businesses tailored to a younger market” in otherwise rundown commercial strips.

The city of San Diego is working to modernize North Park’s community plan. The 2016 version is out for public review, wending through the advisory North Park Planning Committee on its way to a possible recommendation to City Council in September. Final Council approval could come as soon as October, said Lara Gates, the city’s project manager for the plan update.

The community plan update will next be up for discussion before the North Park Planning Committee Tuesday.

Draft language in the new community plan was driven by public input. North Park businesses got nervous when they realized the old community plan didn’t explicitly recognize the kind of light-manufacturing zoning required for microbreweries and their ilk. Microbreweries are different from bars or other establishments that simply serve beer – they brew specialty beer in-house in small batches.

So city planners put language into the new plan they hope will provide a framework for those kinds of businesses.

The newly proposed zoning implementation clause – so far just a paragraph with four bullet points – describes artisan food and beverage producers as establishments that commercially produce foodstuff on-site, offering as examples microbreweries, coffee roasters, ice cream makers, bakeries and confectionaries. Limited-use or neighborhood-use permits could be issued to those businesses if: their square footage is 10,000 square feet or less; their storage is tucked out of view behind walls, fences or landscaping; they keep their hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and their distribution facilities aren’t next to residences.

That new designation is crucial – without it, the plan might end up banning microbreweries in areas that aren’t currently zoned for light industrial use.

“Without the inclusion of a new zoning use that allows light manufacturing in commercial zones such as the proposed artisan food and beverage producer use, then microbreweries, which are considered a manufacturing use, would be prohibited unless the property was zoned light industrial,” Gates wrote in an email.

Gates said neighborhood businesses have largely voiced support for the new language at community planning meetings.

“Our intent is to encourage economic development through these types of businesses that support a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented community that has limited impact on the surrounding neighborhood,” Gates said.

Ron Troyano, an entrepreneur whose ventures have included the former Alchemy restaurant in South Park, is participating in the conversation. He said he hopes the new clause can be fleshed out to consider future uses.

“I think it’s important it be broad enough to accomplish all the goals of artisan food making. I’m concerned the language doesn’t contemplate all of the potential opportunities,” said Troyano, who recently formed a partnership with Los Angeles-based Food Centricity, the business accelerator behind the shared kitchen concept L.A. Prep.

For instance, he said the square footage proviso might be limiting. What might be appropriate for a microbrewery might not be scaled right for a food hub like L.A. Prep, which is in a 56,000-square-foot industrial building, said Troyano.

In general, the light manufacturing conducted by these businesses don’t create the pollution, heavy traffic or noise often associated with heavier industrial manufacturing.

“This is small-batch. We’re not talking about huge outputs – manually usually – with low automation,” Troyano said. “The facility doesn’t look like a factory. From the outside it’s a normal building.”

Business owners citywide are watching the North Park community plan update, and those being updated concurrently in Golden Hill and Uptown, because they can become precedent-setting components of San Diego’s overall general plan, he said.

Vicki Granowitz, chair of the North Park planning committee, said issues of alcohol and density tend to generate the most discussion in the neighborhood.

“So getting the zoning right is very important,” she said.

The business advocacy nonprofit North Park Main Street pushed for the artisan food and beverage producer piece to be included in the updated plan. The group’s executive director, Angela Landsberg, said the new language would apply to new businesses, and to existing businesses seeking to expand or remodel.

Landsberg said the emphasis on light manufacturing of food and drink in the community plan will make the regulations more clear, but won’t necessarily draw more microbreweries to North Park.

“The market is going to drive that,” she said. “I maintain that we need diversity. We don’t want to be only a destination for breweries or thrift stores or anything else. We have to keep the balance.”

The new artisan food and drink clause needs to be written broadly enough for North Park’s commercial district to naturally evolve, Landsberg said.

“We want to make sure it allows for the flexibility for different types of businesses that can add to the economic value of North Park.”

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