Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vacant Northside lumber yard eyed for microbrewery

A once-contentious piece of Northside property may see new life if a local partnership has its way.

The partnership, so far working only under the name of "Cloister Brewing Company", is eyeing the former Myron G. Johnson & Son Lumber Company site at Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock Street for a microbrewery and beer garden, and has presented plans to the Northside Community Council to invest $500,000 to rehabilitate the existing two-story building using green technology.

The adjacent garage area would house craft beer brewing operations, with the product being sold both at the microbrewery and at other locations throughout the City.

The partnership is working with an architect on general design plans for the site. An urban plaza and gateway at the intersection – possibly including community gardens – also could be part of the mix.

But to make the plan work, the project's designers have to consider such factors as the neighboring Factory Square development, City plans for surrounding retail outlots, and how the building and beer garden address the Hamilton-Blue Rock intersection.

The partnership also will need the City to continue remediating the site, which once contained not only the lumber yard but also an automotive service station. Site environmental assessments have shown small amounts of contaminants in the soil and groundwater.

Earlier this week, the Northside Business Association voted unanimously to write a letter of support for the project to the City.

A contentious site

In business at Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock Street since 1946, the Myron G. Johnson & Son Lumber Company left Northside for a larger site in Queensgate in early 2005.

That same year, Anchor Properties proposed a 14,820-square-foot Walgreens store on the 1.2-acre site, with a pharmacy drive-through and surface parking for 48 cars. The Hamilton Avenue frontage would have been set back 140 feet from the street and would have contained 37 of the parking spaces.

Residents and business owners became concerned that a new Walgreens would take business away from its locally-owned retailers and would damage the integrity of the Northside NBD Historic District. Storefronts sprouted signs asking shoppers to patronize locally-owned shops, and several hundred residents signed petitions to stop the store from moving in.

Anchor countered that its own studies showed that Walgreens stores built to the zero lot line underperform those built with parking in front.

But in 2006, after months of meetings with the Northside Business Association, the Historic Conservation Board, and the Zoning Board of Appeals, Walgreens and Anchor Properties pulled out of the project.

The struggle to keep the chain retailer out of the neighborhood has led Northside to seek greater protections for its historic business district, including a proposed formula business ordinance that would classify chain retailers as conditional uses subject to additional levels of public hearings and approvals.

Previous reading on BC:
Northside's Factory Square set to begin (6/22/10)
Northside exploring limits on chain businesses (3/25/10)
Northside business district taking first steps toward National Register (8/11/09)
Factory Square photo update, 4/4/09 (4/22/09)
ODOD: Forcing tax credit approvals would 'offend constitutional separation of powers' (5/16/08)