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June 25, 2014

Royal Oak Planning Commission tables decision on brewery

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK — The debate over whether a tasting room that sells an unlimited number of pints of beer is actually a bar has stalled the approval of the city’s latest brewery.

ROAK Brewery wants to manufacture craft beer inside a warehouse at 332 E. Lincoln Ave., a property that sits where the downtown abuts with a residential area.

When owners stood before the Planning Commission June 10 seeking site plan and conditional rezoning approval, members of the commission expressed a willingness to OK a brewery but disliked the tasting room concept, which they felt crossed the line of being a bar.

“The more you talk, it sounds like you are trying to open a bar through a loophole,” said commission member Jeff Chase to the owners of the brewery.

State law allows Michigan breweries to serve beers they produce on-site without obtaining the traditional liquor license.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to table the issue to see more details of the tasting room site plan and to gain a better grasp of the state law that governs Michigan breweries.

John Leone, one of the owners of the brewery, declined to call his tasting room a bar.

“We’re not interested in running a full-blown bar,” Leon said. “People will travel from thousands of miles away to visit these breweries, and it’s pretty standard to have the ability to serve them a pint of beer.”

Further, he said breweries do not draw the type of people who would get intoxicated and cause problems. Instead, Leone said it’s more of a “connoisseur” atmosphere.

“We are not masking a bar,” he said, adding, “If I was in my 20s and looking to have a good time, this isn’t the place where I’d go.”

The tasting room would be a fraction of the overall space ROAK would be leasing.

According to plans submitted to the city, the tasting room would take up about 1,200 square feet of a 13,115-square-foot space.

Mayor Jim Ellison, who sits on the Planning Commission, said he entered the meeting supporting the brewery until he found out more about the tasting room, which he believed would be a bar. He said it wasn’t something he could support with it being so close to a residential area.

He said that part of town has been dealing with overflow noise and traffic from the downtown for years.

“It’s almost like a slap in the face to move in a bar that doesn’t need a Class C license to open,” he said.

Nearly a dozen residents who spoke during the public hearing on the matter were overwhelming against the brewery.

“You paint it any way you want, dress it up any way you want — a bar is a bar is a bar,” said nearby resident Dane Nielsen.

Two residents spoke in favor of the brewery during the public hearing.

“Tasting rooms are not bars,” said Edward Stencil, a downtown resident. “They are similar to bars in that they serve alcohol, but it’s not a place where someone goes and packs in for two hours and drinks.”

The issue will come back before the Planning Commission at the July meeting.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.