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Article Published November 3, 2018
'Stewards of the Land Farm Brewery' Concept on Tap for North Branford's First Farm Brewery
Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

On Nov. 1, a representative of Stewards of the Land Farm Brewery, set to become North Branford's first farm brewery, shared a concept of what the owners hope to create at 418 Forest Road.

The building concept calls for keeping the historic building's look and incorporating a patron area in a first floor Tasting Room, including an outdoor patio; with an addition at back for the brewery operation, and a patron parking lot on the building's north side.

The concept was shared with North Branford's Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) as an item on a revised agenda for its regular Nov. 1 meeting, with Attorney Sylvia Rutkowska (Dzialo, Pickett & Allen, P.C., Middletown) representing the brewery. She said a formal site plan was expected to be submitted to the Town on Friday, Nov. 2. The PZC would then begin the process of review, including a public hearing.

The farm brewery application merges a parcel containing a 19th century historic farmhouse at 418 Forest Road (just past the intersection of Augur Road) with a neighboring 15.6 parcel of farm land; with all project activity taking place on the 418 Forest Road parcel. The current farm land is utilized by North Branford's DeFrancesco Farm, owners of the brewery. The DeFrancesco family has been farming in town for over 100 years.

"This concept is looking to restore two historic aspects within the town. One is the historic idea of a town tavern [and] the secondary goal is to restore a historic building [that's] over 200 years old  [which] needs a good amount of TLC added to it. This project would accomplish both of those things," said Rutkowska.

The PZC convened with only three members in attendance on Nov. 1 and the item was listed last under Other Business as, "Discussion regarding a concept of a Farm Brewery at 418 Forest Road."

The listening session was provided as a courtesy; no votes or other actions were taken. Commissioner Alex DeFrancesco, an owner of the farm brewery, recused himself from the presentation, which was heard by PZC chair Harry Dulak and Commissioner Ron Siena. Zoning Enforcement Officer Tom Hogarty was also in attendance due to providing his biannual report on zoning matters to the PZC.

DeFrancesco is also an owner of North Branford's DeFrancesco Farm, which successfully applied to the PZC in 2017 to enact zoning text amendment regulation changes allowing farm breweries. At that time, DeFrancesco was not a member of the PZC.

The brewery hopes to have its application reviewed and approved over the winter, said Rutkowska,  who also invited questions from the PZC and any information the applicant might need to see in advance in order to make the application review/public hearing process "productive."

"My understanding is you may have heard little bits about this project," said Rutkowska. "The goal of tonight is to introduce you to the specific proposal or essentially a draft in the process; clarify some of the new regulation with you, and just make sure we're on the same page and that we're complying as we need to."

"We'll do our best as we can... a few members are not here; so we'll try to kind of give at least some direction," said Dulak.

Rutkowska explained the first floor plan of the two-story white farmhouse would incorporate the patron area and brewery Tasting Room. The front of the house, including its farm porch, would essentially retain its exterior historic presence and the two-story height would remain and not be increased, she said. The plan is a design of Custom Design & Building Services, LLC (Wallingford).

"From the front of the building, essentially you wouldn't see any change at all, except for a little bit of a facelift," said Rutkowska. "So from the street-line, it's going to retain its residential character."

Access to the patron area would be from a new entrance at the north side of the building, with only limited access allowed through the front door to the porch, which would essentially be "...for folks that need some air," said Rutkowksa. The patron area plans also call for addition of an outdoor patio.

The brewery is proposing a new addition at the back of the building for the brewing operations area. The addition could be seen as part of the exterior renderings shared Nov. 1, but the brewery operations concept was not discussed in detail. However, based on what was discussed Nov. 1, one area of plan which will likely be scrutinized by the PZC during the formal review will include how to treat the brewery operation's restricted-access driveway to the operations bay and garbage storage area. Rutkowska said the driveway would be used "infrequently," due to most ingredients being on-site. The driveway would be created from an existing driveway off Forest Road to the south side of the house.

Another area that will need to be addressed is the brewery's hope to get relief from zoning regulations to allow for a patron parking lot accommodating 27 spaces on the north side of the building, with access on Forest Road. Parking space allotment is based on patron square footage. The first-floor plan shows a rounded bar area for the Tasting Room and patron area of approximately 100 square feet, by Rutkowska's calculations (including two bathrooms and the patio space). Based on current zoning regulations, she said that would allow for approximately 21 parking spaces and not 27, as requested. An interior first floor staircase leading to the second floor would be restricted and the second floor would not be intended for patron use, so those areas are not included in the patron square footage calculation, Rutkowska said.

Rutkowska also shared that 11 parking spaces would be lost if the project is made to comply with residential parking requiring a 50-foot buffer along Forest Road. She said project efforts have already been made to avoid wetlands and grading or other impacts on the wetlands, and to preserve farm land, which could create some opportunity for modifications from the PZC. She also noted the property's natural dip below the streetline where the parking lot would be constructed makes the parking lot less visible from the road and could create an opportunity to solve the issue of the buffer requirement. She sought the opinion of the PZC on whether the commission would be able to provide modifications or conditions for the applicant. However, other remedies, such as applying for a variance, might need to be considered.

 Dulak explained such issues would need to be discussed as part of a formal PZC review with the full commission.

"Whatever project it is, we work with the applicant to solve some of these [but] we shouldn't opine one way or the other on this [tonight]," said Dulak.

Once the site plan is taken in by the Town it will be added to a future PZC agenda and the process of review, including notices of a date for a public hearing, will be scheduled. Check for updates to the PZC's meeting agenda at the town website www.townofnorthbranfordct.com