ENCINITAS — Modern Times Brewery is a step closer to opening a tasting room in downtown Encinitas, after a divided Planning Commission voted in favor of its plans.
The 3-2 vote came after more than 90 minutes of emotional public testimony and debate among the five commissioners.
Planning Commissioner Kevin Doyle, who cast the deciding vote, was poised to vote to deny the Point Loma-based brewery’s application, but reversed course after hearing from commissioners Greg Drakos and Al Apuzzo, who were decidedly in favor of the project.
“I’m probably going to vote against staff’s recommendation and to allow Modern Times,” Doyle said. His declaration was met by boos from residents who came out against the proposal and by applause from supporters of the project.
Apuzzo and Drakos said that they believed Modern Times was the perfect tenant for the dilapidated building across the street from La Paloma Theatre, and that denying them would send the message to businesses that Encinitas has a de-facto moratorium on businesses that serve alcohol, including restaurants.
“I think this is a great business with great social responsibility, a great track record and a great history,” Apuzzo said. “I get the concerns, but if we vote with staff’s recommendation tonight (to deny), we have sent the message to the community that we have a moratorium on liquor licenses in downtown Encinitas and I do not support a moratorium.”
Opponents of the decision can appeal it to the City Council.
The proposal calls for a 3,000-square-foot tasting room facility in a former retail building near the corner of D Street and Coast Highway 101, including 1,980 square feet of bar service area, 106 square feet of retail and the remaining square footage for a bar area, cold storage, restrooms and an office.
The tasting room would have a maximum capacity of 150 people.
Commissioners Bruce Ehlers and Glenn O’Grady voted against the project. They both said they thought Modern Times was a good business looking to locate in the wrong location — downtown.
Both, citing statistics provided by the Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said that downtown had too many alcohol-serving establishments.
Ehlers said that he could support Modern Times’ application if it were for places like New Encinitas or Olivenhain, which don’t have many alcohol-serving establishments. But downtown, he said, already has a documented overconcentration.
“Take this same application and move it a half of a mile, and it’s great,” Ehlers said. “In this downtown census tract we should not be approving any more alcohol establishments.”
The city’s planning department had recommended the commission deny the project based on concerns raised by Sheriff’s Department about an overconcentration of liquor licenses and calls for service stemming from that area. According to the staff report, the Sheriff’s Department pointed out that there are 16 liquor licenses for bars and restaurants between Encinitas Boulevard and F Street on Coast Highway 101 alone. That’s nearly half of the licenses in the downtown area alone, 38.
Drakos said that the city shouldn’t deny responsible alcohol-serving establishments because of the behavior of several “bad actors,” establishments that have prompted the city to take a stiffer stance on enforcement in recent months.
The Encinitas City Council recently approved the so-called “deemed approved” ordinance, which would subject all alcohol-serving establishments citywide to stiffer nuisance standards.
Modern Times CEO Jacob McKean has been on record in support of the ordinance.
Residents also voiced concerns over the project’s perceived lack of parking for its patrons.
Modern Times representatives argued that their tasting rooms were different from some of the problematic bars and restaurants, and they never had a call for service at either of their two existing locations in Point Loma and North Park.
McKean said that a downtown location fit with the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability, walkability and responsible alcohol service: the company encourages employees to bike and take public transit to work and reimburses them if they do so.
This, McKean said, reduces their need for parking, in addition to the fact that the tasting room’s peak hours — 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. — occur when most of the retail locations are closed.
Locating the business in an area like New Encinitas, McKean said, would lead to more people using their cars to come to the tasting room and could lead to more drunk driving incidents.
“We selected this building in large part because of its excellent access to public transportation,” McKean said. “Environmental sustainability is a core value of Modern Times, as is responsible alcohol service, and we feel strongly that public transit access is essential to both.”
Some residents disagreed with McKean and expressed concern that a tasting room of that size would exacerbate many of the issues already present in downtown.
One business owner, Beverly Goodman, said she feared people would buy Modern Times beers and drink them right outside of the location and leave the bottles strewn on the street.
Former Councilman Dennis Holz, pointing to Modern Times marketing materials, said that the tasting room was a euphemism for another bar in downtown.
“This is a full-on drinking establishment, pure and simple,” Holz said.
The majority of speakers, however, supported Modern Times application.
“Modern times has done their homework,” said John Hargreaves, an Encinitas resident speaking in favor of the application. “The fact of the matter is they are not a bar, and they are going to attract a different type of clientele.”