Panel Denies Yet Encourages Brewery Idea

The South Pasadena Planning Commission this week denied a local resident’s application to launch a microbrewery at his home, but essentially invited him to modify his business plan to assuage the concerns of neighbors and try again.

The commission agreed with most of the staff findings that would have bolstered his application for a conditional use permit, but voiced disagreement with the staff claim that the business would not have been “detrimental to the health, safety or general welfare” of the neighborhood. Additionally, panel members were split on whether an 8-foot wall dividing the proposed establishment from a neighboring property would have been an appropriate mitigation.

“I support the concept you’re trying to bring forward,” commission chair John Lesak told applicant Steve Martin. “I just don’t think, as presented, we can get through the findings.”

The proposal proved to be contentious among city residents — neighbors or not — and helped extend the single-issue meeting to nearly four hours on Tuesday night. Commissioners encouraged Martin to find enough common ground with neighbors for the plan to get their green light.

“I know that the emotions are pretty high,” Commissioner Janet Braun said, “but I’m hoping that we can come together with some thoughts and ideas and get some people together to do some collaborating here.”

The proposal would have added the microbrewery to the duplex home at 521 and 523 Mission St., with the business portion of the endeavor represented by a patio that comes up to the sidewalk and leads into an indoor serving and seating area. Around 808 square feet of the interior would have been dedicated to the brewery, while the remaining 858 square feet would have remained strictly residential. (The city had recommended adding a condition that Martin or an employee live at the property.)

Martin planned to have three brewing tanks in the back garage measuring a total of 150 gallons. The microbrewery would have been powered by electricity that would have been generated by solar panels. Customers would have been able to go only partially up the driveway, to access restrooms.

The proposed operation would have been small by microbrewery standards, able to produce only 260 barrels a year. Martin had suggested business hours of noon-10 p.m. seven days a week. A study indicated that street parking in the area was, on average, 55% occupied, and a noise study said the estimated 66 decibels would be well within the normal range for the neighborhood; however, opponents questioned those studies and pointed out they likely were done earlier in the coronavirus pandemic when the area was less busy.

Having anticipated the opposition — public comments from residents had been posted with the agenda packet days before the meeting — Martin, for his part, indicated Tuesday he was open to modifying his business model to bridge an agreement with detractors, such as by altering hours or how he sells his beer.

“I think there’s some room for discussion as far as not throwing out the baby with the bathwater and coming together on some middle ground,” he said. “I’m very open to making changes to this. What was in my proposal wasn’t static. It was to start a discussion.”

In general, residents opposing the project worried what the addition of a brewery would do to the character of the neighborhood, which, on the western end of Mission, is a block away from Trader Joe’s. Many parents worried how an influx of customers looking for parking and having drinks into the evening would affect their kids’ outdoor playtime, while others worried about the business interfering with their quiet evenings.

“Parking in that area has always been a problem,” said resident Shelley Stephens, whose sister lives next door to the property. “People, when they drink, get loud. It’s always going to be noisy there.”

“The lack of parking would make this not the place that I would want to bring my friends,” said Taylor Plenn, who, at 29, said he fit the “typical demographic” for such a business. “There is nothing about a brewpub smack-dab in the middle of a residential area that particularly appeals to me.”

Many of the comments also veered into accusations toward city Planning Manager Kanika Kith — Martin’s wife. These written comments, which typically included boasts of South Pasadena’s family-friendly, small-town nature, included false claims that the applicants were on the Planning Commission, innuendo of backroom dealing to supposedly alter the zoning code and outright personal attacks alleging political corruption on Kith’s or other officials’ parts.

Martin said Kith had recused herself entirely from the application process. To handle the proposal, the city contracted with an outside planner, Jeff Anderson, who told the commission on Tuesday that he’s never met or spoken with Kith.

“She’s been berated and harmed with lies, and it’s kind of crushed me,” Martin told the commission Tuesday.

Another allegation was that the city’s zoning codes were changed to permit such a project — coincidentally, at around the time Martin closed on the property in 2020. At that time, Planning Director Joanna Hankamer prepared a formal interpretation of existing planning and zoning codes that included winemakers and brewers in the city’s definition of “cottage industry” — which has been permitted at property.

This implication was strongly disputed by city staff members, who asserted that Hankamer’s decision was with regard to the Seven Patios development and not to surreptitiously benefit one of her employees.

“The only thing that was changed was the director’s interpretation of ‘cottage food,’” Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jared said. “The zoning code was not changed.”

The commission stuck with the city’s stance and also defended its actions to isolate Kith from this proposal.

“From what I understand, the way this proceeded was within the letter of the law,” Braun said.

The brewery did attract a fair amount of support from residents, with Martin submitting a list of dozens of supporters and others writing or phoning in comments on Tuesday. Many felt a smaller brewery would match the atmosphere of South Pasadena’s mom-and-pop commercial sector and residents’ outdoors-oriented  tastes.

“I feel like this would be a great addition for them, not to mention all the bikers you see going up Mission every Saturday,” said Josh Albrektson. “With a microbrewery, it’s not like you’re going to have drunk people coming out of this. It closes at 10 and is a tasting facility. I’d be shocked if anyone came out of this drunk.”

Odom Stamps, an influential former councilman who is spearheading another development in the city, also gave his endorsement Tuesday, calling it a “perfect fit” for Mission Street.

“If they make great beer, hopefully they will outgrow this and become another big business that started in South Pasadena,” he said.