It was largely a matter of favor with the community that ultimately determined the fate of a microbrewery and one 7-Eleven in north Long Beach. Although plans to open Dutch’s Brewhouse garnered the support of a few people at the July 17 Long Beach Planning Commission meeting, a proposal to grant a permit that would allow one convenience-store franchise to sell wine and beer drew the ire of several residents.
A business’s ability to sell alcohol requires permits, paperwork and inspections from various entities, and the Planning Commission is one of the key governing entities in the approval process. Unfavorable decisions by this commission can be appealed to the City Council.
Both Dutch’s Brewhouse and the 7-Eleven are on Atlantic Avenue, but they are in different neighborhoods. The future site of Dutch’s Brewhouse is located at 4244 Atlantic Ave.
The 7-Eleven store at the center of some controversy at last week’s Planning Commission meeting is located at 5400 Atlantic Ave.
While a few individuals spoke out in favor of opening up Dutch’s Brewhouse in Bixby Knolls, one commissioner noted the particular support of Blair Cohn, the executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association.
Cohn said in a phone interview this week that the brewhouse’s owner, Jason Van Fleet, is a Bixby Knolls resident and that his kids are very involved in the community and its schools. He said that it is exciting to see an entrepreneur like Van Fleet want to open a business in his own back yard. Cohn highlighted the brewhouse as an example of a forward-thinking business idea that’s taking root in other cities and especially in Long Beach.
“One of the most exciting things is the continued interest and investment into the neighborhood now,” he said.
In his phone interview Wednesday, Van Fleet described how his restaurant/microbrewery will encourage customers to craft their own beer at one of three stations in the establishment. At each station, up to four people can gather around a large kettle to try their hand at crafting their own beer and having a hands-on experience in the brewing process. Food and Van Fleet’s own beer will be served as well. Customers can return in about two weeks’ time to complete the bottling process. Kids will also have something fun to do in the brewhouse. He said that they will be given the opportunity to make their own pretzels and even try their hand at making root beer and sodas.
A father with three kids of his own, Van Fleet acknowledged that he wanted his establishment to appeal to more than just adults.
“I’m trying to make it a family-friendly environment,” he said.
Cohn acknowledged that Van Fleet’s new business is meant to appeal to an upscale clientele.
“It’s much more of a sophisticated consumer [who will be] looking for this product,” Cohn said.
The Planning Commission didn’t rule in favor of 7-Eleven’s request for a permit that would allow the store to sell alcohol and beer. Although representatives of the franchise said they were requesting to transfer the required conditional-use permit from one store out of the area to a location on Atlantic Avenue, the Commission voted unanimously to deny the permit.
The major reasons given included its proximity to schools, the concentration of nearby stores that sell alcohol and the high crime in the area. Several residents spoke out against allowing 7-Eleven to have the permit. City staff also recommended that the Commission deny 7-Eleven’s request. The store’s representatives argued that they have been responsible business owners.
Although he voted against 7-Eleven’s request, Commissioner Alan Fox noted that the circumstances were unusual.
“This is necessarily extraordinary, but it is somewhat surprising,” Fox said at last week’s meeting. “And from the standpoint of the applicant, for there to be other stores in that neighborhood that are selling alcohol right now, there’s a fairness issue, certainly.”
Commissioner Melani Smith agreed with Fox.
“I understand the business reasons that the applicant is putting forward for wanting the license,” she said, explaining that she was not passing judgment on alcohol. However, she also did not support the request from the convenience store. “It’s hard for me to think about approving.”
Jacqueline Medina, a spokesperson for the city’s development services department, acknowledged in a statement Wednesday that it is a fairly rare occurrence for the Commission to deny an application for the off-premises sale of alcohol that’s 500 feet or less from a district that allows for residential use.
In other Planning Commission news, the Commission also voted in favor of a request to allow one McDonald’s restaurant to operate its drive-through operation on a 24-hour basis. Planning Commission Chair Donita Van Horik was the lone vote against the proposal. She cited concerns that residents who lived in an apartment complex close to the restaurant might be disturbed. The restaurant is located at 5020 Long Beach Blvd.