FOXBORO — By tentatively supporting an 11th-hour licensing gambit, selectmen have paved the way for an outdoor craft beer garden on Chestnut Street this summer.
But whether the first-of-its-kind (in Foxboro, at least) pouring establishment actually opens on May 27 as planned — or stays open through the end of October — remains to be seen.
Board members on Tuesday night unanimously approved 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 board’s provisional ruling, expected to be ratified at an upcoming meeting on April 27, allows the outdoor establishment to operate through early July, at which point a second 30-day license will be required.
When finalized, that ruling is expected to incorporate conditions addressing noise, parking, traffic, access and pedestrian safety outlined in an advisory opinion from the planning board.
But selectmen would not commit to extending the unorthodox licensing arrangement for a full season as requested, with board member Leah Gibson instead advocating a wait-and-see approach.
“I just think this is something that’s never been done before,” Gibson said. “I’m not going to commit to something beyond the 30 days.”
The unorthodox day-to-day licensing initiative had been substituted for a specialized pouring license, initially requested by Shovel Town, expressly created by the state to promote craft breweries.
But after town legal counsel determined such a license can be utilized only by establishments which actually engage in on-site brewing, state and local officials shifted gears and recommended the town issue a series of one-day licenses, ostensibly in 30-day increments, stretching from May 27 to the end of October.
These single-day licenses would comply with state and local alcohol regulations while still allowing Shovel Town to operate under the governor’s executive order relaxing outdoor dining options during the COVIC-19 pandemic, the legal advisory said.
In the event the executive order is rescinded before the end of October, the beer garden would have to close within 60 days, Town Manager William Keegan added.
Under the board’s tentative 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/ holidays from noon to 6 p.m.
Frank Alteri, one of the brewery’s co-owners, said plans 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. Overflow parking, if needed, will be directed to a nearby municipal lot next to the former state hospital auditorium building.
Municipal water service and a portable toilet facility connected to the private Chestnut Green sewer network also will be provided.
Board members also granted Shovel Town permission for live entertainment, though time limits and other potential conditions have yet to be ironed out.
Neighbors living on nearby Shea Lane voiced differing opinions about the beer garden plan, with some pressing selectmen to reject it outright and others thanking officials for addressing unwelcome impacts.
“It appears to me a lot of those things have been taken into account, which is very gratifying,” said Curt Fauth of 10A Shea Lane. “For the most part I think you’ve addressed the concerns that we’ve raised, and I appreciate that.”
“It just seems to me there is an extraordinary amount of effort to push this through,” observed John Greenhalgh, who lives at 14A Shea Lane. “It doesn’t matter what comes up, we’re just riding over it.”
Greenhalgh’s remarks echoed earlier comments by Selectwoman Stephanie McGowan, who said that Shovel Town should not expect preferential treatment over existing businesses in town.
“I just feel like we’re just stretching this thing to make it happen,” McGowan said. “I feel like we’re bending over backwards for this project, and I don’t know why.”
Fellow board member and retired police chief Edward O’Leary agreed, referring to the evolving licensing effort as “a rolling thunder type of thing.”
“I’ve never seen anything move as fast as the issuance of multiple licenses to an entity that has no history in Foxboro,” O’Leary said.
From a public safety perspective, however, current Police Chief Michael Grace appeared confident that the proposed parking areas and traffic flow would function safely and effectively.
“I don’t have a concern with cars coming in and out of that lot,” Grace said, adding that local police have an array of enforcement options to address any problems which may emerge.
“The town has multiple options to ensure the scene is safe,” Grace said, adding that Shovel Town Brewery has no alcohol-related infractions on record, either with officials in Easton or the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
“They have been great partners with the Town of Easton,” he said.
Likewise, public health director Matt Brennan confirmed the health board had approved food service plans submitted by the applicant.
“Shovel Town has worked with the health department,” Brennan said. “Everything he has submitted meets our code.”
While grateful to selectmen for supporting the beer garden concept, Alteri sought reassurances that board members will be open to extending the one-day arrangement when the current license expires.
“This isn’t profitable in 30 days. It doesn’t even come close,” Alteri said. “We’ll be lucky to get profitability in 60 days.”
Without formalizing any commitment, however, board members suggested that only major problems would warrant such a denial.
“As long as everything is going good, we’ve never pulled a license from anyone,” Selectman Chris Mitchell said.
“Short of anything catastrophic, I don’t see any issues,” added Chairman Mark Elfman.
Alteri two weeks ago 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.