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Stewards of the Land Farm Brewery owner Alex DeFrancesco discusses food truck visits to the brewery, during a Planning and Zoning Review of the site plan application being proposed for 418 Forest Road. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Attorney Sylvia Rutkowska points to a proposed parking area to the north of the proposed brewery operation and patron building. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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Following a public hearing which both opened and concluded on Dec. 6, North Branford's Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) plans to continue its review of a site plan application for the town's first farm brewery at its next meeting on Thurs. Jan. 3, 2019.
As previously reported, the proposed Stewards of the Land Farm Brewery at 418 Forest Road would revise and expand an existing farmhouse on the property, to include patron areas in a first floor Tasting Room and outdoor patio; with an addition at back for the brewery operation, and a patron parking lot on the building's north side. The Tasting Room's anticipated patron level would be no more than 20 guests.
The application seeks to combine the property's approximate four-acre site with a contiguous 16-acre-plus site to create a 19-acre parcel. The property is owned by DeFrancesco Farm of North Branford and the farm brewery will also be owned/operated by members of the DeFrancesco family. One of brewery's principal owners, Alex DeFrancesco, also serves on the PZC and has recused himself from the PZC review of the application.
On Dec. 6, DeFrancesco spoke briefly to address a question from the PZC about potential food truck operations at the site. He noted if a truck were scheduled, it would be situated in a parking space in the main lot, with any related food service taking place on the truck and not in the building. Additionally, he noted patrons would also have the option to have food delivered to the brewery as take-out from local restaurants.
Attorney Sylvia Rutkowska (Dzialo, Pickett & Allen, P.C., Middletown) represented the brewery for much of the Dec. 6 discussion with the PZC on the site plan and property uses. In addition, she addressed questions from the PZC and four members of the public regarding hours of operation, commercial and entertainment noise potential, well water usage and monitoring, traffic concerns, storage of bulky waste and other issues.
One issue raised by both police and some residents is the potential for increase in traffic accidents at the intersection of Forest and Augur Road, just to the east of the brewery. In an initial letter to the PZC, Acting Chief of Police James Lovelace noted that the town has made numerous requests of the state Dept. of Transportation for a traffic light to be installed at the intersection on state-owned Forest Road, with no success to date. He also noted the addition of a commercial business in the vicinity could create an additional traffic hardship at that intersection. In a follow-up letter to the PZC, after a Dec. 5 informational meeting with the applicant; Lovelace noted several other questions raised by the police department in his initial letter were discussed and satisfactorily addressed. Those issues addressed to the satisfaction of the police department included questions on overflow parking, noise impact on surrounding residents, Dumpster truck traffic/location, ability of the parking lot to accommodate large/emergency vehicles, alignment of the driveway and cutting back trees and brush to improve sight lines.
Other issues brought up on Dec. 6 was the brewery's location in a valley, making brewery operation noise and patron entertainment noise a concern raised by neighbors living in the area, mainly on Village Street. Rutkowska said all brewing machinery equipment is to be located inside the rear addition brewhouse, with all of it "relatively quiet" so that "none of it should emanate to the outside." She did note the operation's mill has a "larger quality of noise...characteristic to a drill" but would be operated "infrequently," some five to 10 minutes at a time.
With regard to live music, Rutkowska pointed to a noise report provided by the applicant, which she termed a "scientific review." Using the loudest possible option, a live band on the patio, and measuring the noise to the closest neighbor (7 Village St.) the decibel level fell below the town's noise ordinance by 13 decibels, the report indicated.
"Decibel level noise resulting from even a live music band would only be 32 decibels at the receiving end; and North Branford's noise ordinance allows for up to 45 or 55 [decibels], depending on the time of day," Rutkowska explained.
The PZC also asked to applicant to clarify hours of brewery operation as well as patron hours.
Following a discussion with the applicant, Rutkowska provided clarification that requested manufacturing hours would be 6 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday through Sunday. As for hours of patron occupation, she said the applicant agreed to either amend the statement of use (which requested hours of 4 p.m. – 10 p.m. with additional hours of noon- 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and noon – 6 p.m. on Sundays); or agree to conditions allowing hours consistent with winery regulations: Sunday noon – 6 p.m.; Monday through Wednesday, noon – 8 p.m.; Thursday noon – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon – 12 a.m.
PZC member Trish Mase pushed back on the applicant's request to have the same patron hours currently allowed for the town's two farm wineries.
In the PZC's work to develop a town zoning regulation Farm Brewery text amendment, Mase said,"...if we wanted them to be like the farm winery [hours], we would have done that."
In the case of this application, Mase said she felt it was important to look at hours involving Sunday night through Thursday night functions, in order to "...protect people that want to go to sleep at eight or nine o'clock on [those nights]. The spirit [of the text amendment] was to have more control over that," said Mase.
Rutkowska also provided feedback on questions raised by some neighbors about well water usage and monitoring. She noted that even tripling the application's initial discussion of well water use for the brewhouse and patron area would still fall well beneath the water usage required for the currently-zoned single-family home with a four-person occupancy on the property. She also explained the wells will have two monitors; one for the brewhouse and another for the patron usage; and both will be incorporated into an ongoing monitoring process including oversight by the local health department (East Shore District Health Department).
The application was submitted with some 22 letters of support as well as another 50 or so letters which were received by the applicant and would be submitted to the PZC, Rutkowska noted.
While Rutkowska indicated the applicant was hoping for a PZC decision on Dec. 6, in order to allow the farming family to use winter down-time to proceed with installation, construction and renovation, PZC chair Harry Dulak noted the application would not be acted upon on Dec. 6. He also suggested the applicant may want to continue the public hearing, although all members of the public present who wished to speak had been heard on Dec. 6. After consulting with the owners, Rutkowska said the applicant would be in favor of closing the public hearing. With a majority of three of five PZC members in attendance (Dulak, Mase and member Ronald Siena), the PZC voted unamiously to close the public hearing on Dec. 6.
The PZC will continue its review of the application on Thurs. Jan. 3 at the next regular meeting, 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 909 Foxon Road.
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