Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the taps will be flowing at a seasonal outdoor craft beer garden on Chestnut Street, with the controversial proposal clearing final regulatory hurdles this week.
Selectmen on Tuesday unanimously approved what applicants hope will be the first of three 30-day pouring licenses requested by Shovel Town Brewery of Easton to operate a so-called “pop-up” beer garden on a vacant lot adjacent to Conrad’s restaurant.
The unorthodox licensing arrangement complies with state and local alcohol regulations while allowing Shovel Town to operate under Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order relaxing outdoor dining options during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The license granted by selectmen this week enables Shovel Town to operate through July 11, after which another 30-day license will be required. If all goes well, the brewery hopes to remain open through the end of October, requiring yet a third license renewal.
Should Baker rescind the order before that time, the beer garden would have to close within 60 days, Town Manager William Keegan said.
Under the board’s ruling, the outdoor establishment would operate four days a week: Thursdays and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 10 p.m., and Sundays and holidays from noon to 6 p.m.
Selectmen also agreed, this time by a 3-1 vote, to impose a $500 licensing fee for each 30-day license, bringing the total charges to $1,500 at season’s end. This matches the town’s annual fee for a conventional pouring license, board members pointed out, although the standard single-day license fee is $50.
The $500 fee was opposed by Selectwoman Leah Gibson, who argued that Shovel Town should be charged a separate $1,500 fee for each 30-day license renewal — a total of $4,500 for the five-month period through the end of October.
“I think we’re trying to be creative and make this work, but I’m not looking to reduce fees at this time,” Gibson said.
But Chairman Mark Elfman called for what he described as a “common sense” approach to the fee structure.
“I think this is an instance where the other fee is just astronomical when compared to what a normal alcohol fee would be, which is $1,500,” he said. “We’re not waiving fees and $1,500 is still a chunk of money.”
Fellow board member Chris Mitchell agreed.
“You’re talking a business that, over the long haul, is investing a lot of money in this community,” Mitchell said. “We have somebody coming into town new, and these guys have been put through the wringer. I just think it’s a little excessive.”
Though unusual, the one-day approach is not unprecedented. Both the Orpheum Theater and Wormtown Brewery at Patriot Place operated under a series of one-day licenses prior to receiving approvals, as did the historic Lakeview Ballroom, predecessor to the upscale Lakeview Pavilion facility.
As previously reported, plans for the Chestnut Street beer garden call for a 20-foot by 30-foot tent with 28 picnic tables, some underneath the tent and other tables with umbrellas positioned outside. On-site parking for 58 vehicles will be provided, positioned in a loop configuration, with food service available from temporary wooden structures on site.
Live entertainment also will be allowed.
Overflow parking, if needed, will be directed to a nearby municipal lot next to the former state hospital auditorium building, and municipal water service and a portable toilet facility connected to the private Chestnut Green sewer network also will be provided.
As a condition of the board’s decision, Shovel Town must install fencing along the rear property line to shield abutters living on Shea Lane. Additional buffering in the form of shrubbery will be planted along the side property line.
“I feel like everything we’ve talked about is covered in here, from dumpsters to dust to lighting to noise,” Gibson said. “Hopefully we’ll make this as comfortable and successful as possible for everyone.”
While ultimately supporting both the application in general and the $500 licensing fee, Selectman Edward O’Leary reiterated earlier remarks that the proposal had been rushed through in record time.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything move so quick in town government,” O’Leary said.
In response, Planning Director Paige Duncan acknowledged the beer garden proposal had moved swiftly through the permitting process, but said other local establishments seeking regulatory relief during the COVID-19 pandemic have received similar treatment.
“Union Straw got theirs in one business day,” Duncan said. “So yes, we are moving quickly on certain things. We are trying to help our restaurants recover and maintain through the pandemic.”
Duncan further predicted the beer garden would be a “neighborhood asset.”
“I hope I don’t eat my words but I don’t think this is necessarily going to be a big party zone,” she added. “My experience with this type of place is that it’s very family oriented, very community oriented.”
Frank Alteri, a co-owner of Shovel Town Brewery, thanked board members for their consideration, despite several difficult and contentious exchanges.
“I know this has been a long and drawn-out process, but we truly enjoyed working with the staff and the board,” Alteri said following Tuesday night’s vote. “While we may have been dragged through the wringer, we’re probably stronger for it.”
Earlier this month, Alteri suggested the seasonal beer garden will provide a springboard for a permanent brewpub which Shovel Town is expected to operate in Foxboro’s former firehouse as part of a landmark redevelopment project in the town center undertaken by Easton-based developer Douglas King, who also owns the Chestnut Street property.