By LINDA MOSS
Raise your glasses and tip your mugs: The Township Planning Board Monday night gave Montclair’s first microbrewery the approvals it needs to open up shop.
The board granted the two variances and the site plan approval that local residents Denise Ford Sawadogo and her husband Leo Sawadogo sought for their startup, the Montclair Brewery. The couple has signed a five-year least to operate the brewery in the former Poor Richard’s building at 101 Walnut St., which is at the corner of Walnut and North Willow Street.
But the township approvals are contingent on the Sawadogos complying with a number of conditions mandated by the board, including submitting a landscaping plan, painting most of the exterior of their building, changing some of the existing fencing, and filing updated documents regarding lighting.
“To get a business operating there, it needs to be spruced up … I think a little paint will go a long way to improving the streetscape,” Board Chair John Wynn said.
One of the variances that the Sawadogos secured was to offer less on-site parking than required by township ordinance. The Montclair Brewery will have 50 seats, which under local codes requires that it provide 25 parking spaces. The Sawadogos have expanded their rear parking lot from 10 to 12 spots, which was still short.
So much of the three-hour hearing on the application centered on the scarce parking for visitors to busy Walnut Street, which is now home to a hub of restaurants, and a larger discussion of what are likely to be continuing issues with parking as that part of town booms. That problem will be exacerbated if the microbrewery is a success, both Wynn and board member Martin Schwartz said.
In ultimately granting the parking variance, Wynn warned that Walnut Street will all its businesses is getting close to full capacity as far as its parking needs.
“In my mind and speaking to the future, I think this kind of takes it [parking allowances] to the max … kind of takes all the wiggle room out of it,” he said. “Any business we look on from this time on we really have to figure out some other arrangements.”
The Sawadogos are seeking to capitalize on the popularity of brewpubs and craft beers sweeping not only the United States but other parts of the world. There are just over 80 production breweries in New Jersey, and of those only two are in Essex County, namely Cricket Hill Brewing Company and Magnify Brewing Company, both in Fairfield.
At Monday’s planning board meeting Denise Ford Sawadogo testified that the former furniture refinishing site, a one-story commercial building, will be converted to have a brew house area and a tasting room. The building has been vacant for about five years, said Alan Trembulak, the Sawadogos’ attorney.
Denise Ford Sawadogo told the board that she and her husband have already received approval from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to operate, and they have applied to the state Division of Alcohol Beverage Control for a limited brewery liquor license.
With such a state license, Montclair Brewery can produce beer on-premises, sell and distribute it and serve it at tastings, Sawadogo said. An individual would only be allowed to purchase up to one keg of beer, but the brewery could sell more than that amount wholesale, according to Sawadogo.
As a condition of its license the microbrewery must offer guided tours of its facilities, can’t serve food prepared on-site and can only serve the beer that it produces, no other beer or any other kind of alcoholic beverages, she said.
While the brewery can’t serve meals or snacks patrons can bring in food to eat, according to Sawadogo. She said that she and her husband have already talked to Walnut Street eateries about partnerships where the restaurants will place menus in the brewery so customers can either order takeout or have food delivered there.
“Unlike lots of other microbreweries in New Jersey especially, we’re lucky that we have a lot of food places near our location,” Sawadogo said. “Because of that, we’ve already spoken with them where some want to create their own special menu just for the brewery. We’ll have their menus on-site.”
The brewery will be open Wednesday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sawadogo said.
In addition to Sawadogo, Trembulak called architect Donald Odukogbe and traffic engineer Doublas Polyniak as witnesses. On a Friday night and Saturday afternoon and night earlier this month, Polyniak said he found a surplus of parking spaces, close to 100, near the Walnut Street train station.
“I’m very comfortable, based on my review of the surrounding area, with those parking fields located near the train station, that there’s more than adequate parking for this facility [the brewery] using the highest standards of the ordinance,” he told the board.
Schwartz repeatedly brought up his concern that “a perfect storm” could be developing, a rise in parking problems, if the brewery is a hit and Walnut Street restaurants increase in popularity. He cited the problems that residents near The Crosby on Glenridge Avenue now face because of illegal parking on their streets and noisy patrons outside that bar.
“How for the future do we set up so that we don’t suddenly have a crunch because everybody is suddenly doing well?” Schwartz asked. “There are a lot of new bodies in that part of the street.”
But board member Carole Willis said that one of the township’s missions is to try to encourage small businesses, prompting talk about how to strike a balance between that goal and addressing the lack of parking.
“I’m with Carole, I like to support small businesses,” board member Carmel Loughman said, adding that she’s then concerned that when applicants come in they are granted parking variances.
“Candidly I think it’s a good thing for the town if more and more people want to be on Walnut Street,” Trembulak said. “It’s going to create parking problems, and the town will have to deal with it or people won’t come, or they’ll have to walk a little a farther. I don’t know if it’s necessary a bad thing … What’s happened on Walnut Street in the past 20 years is amazing to me … It’s going to be short on parking, I think that’s the reality.”
The Sawadogos have started an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to help pay for the exterior improvements requested by the board, https://tinyurl.com/MontclairBrew.
Their goal is to raise $10,000 and they have garnered $275 so far.