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Making Way for Downtown Brewpubs

They’re working on it.

For better or worse, planners have established downtown as the city’s most development- and business-friendly environment.

Now, with small business owners — namely, breweries — recognizing issues with the permitting process in the area, those same downtown planners are trying to address their concerns.

Civic San Diego — a nonprofit tasked with unwinding the city’s redevelopment commitments and conducting planning and permitting functions in downtown — by the end of the summer could adopt a series of changes to its treatment of breweries.

The amendment would formally bless a less-than-ideal workaround used by Ballast Point [1] to expedite the opening of its new Little Italy location.

The brewery wanted to open a small tasting room and scaled-down brewhouse. But doing so would have meant seeking a conditional-use permit, which basically grants an exception from the property’s allowed usage in exchange for certain operating conditions.

Or, the brewery could just open a full restaurant, with a brewery and tasting room, and open right away.

That’s what Ballast Point decided to do. But even though it could open the restaurant immediately, it’d still need to seek the special permit for retail sales, including filling up growlers.

The code change would negate the need for the additional permit.

“The purpose of the code change addition is to provide an enhanced retail privilege to San Diego’s licensed alcoholic beverage manufacturers when and if they establish a bona fide eating establishment in Centre City,” according to a fact sheet on the proposed changes.

(A “bona fide eating establishment” is defined as one containing “suitable” kitchen facilities and “adequate” seating.)

New brewpubs would still need to seek a conditional use permit to schedule any live entertainment.

The change basically means an aspiring brewer can open a brewpub through the same permitting process as opening a restaurant, and still have an opportunity to fill growlers.

“We wanted it to be applicable for craft brewers and how the industry is going, without exacerbating any of the social issues downtown,” said Laura Garrett, chair of the Downtown Community Planning Council, the volunteer planning group for the area.

Ballast Point will certainly welcome the timing.

Garrett said the current plan is for her group to vote on the change in July, so the City Council can officially approve them in August. Ballast Point is shooting for a Sept. 1 opening.

If all goes as planned, that means the brewery won’t need to seek the second permit after all. It would also avoid the unpredictable nine-month approval process that incentivized it to open a restaurant in the first place.

Part of the rationale for the code change, based on the fact sheet, is one often mentioned by the city’s brewers.

It explains that the restrictions imposed by a conditional use permit are often duplicative of those imposed by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) in what it calls “operating restrictions [2]” on a brewery’s retail privileges when it grants a liquor license.

The San Diego Police Department adds a third layer of overlapping bureaucratic process — as a matter of policy, it challenges virtually every liquor license application [3] that crosses its desk.

Such redundant restrictions are ostensibly the type of issue that would be on the docket for the craft beer task force [4] Mayor Bob Filner has tapped.

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