Zoning glitch delays proposed Watertown microbrewery

JUSTIN SORENSEN / WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
A glitch with zoning is complicating plans for Boots Brewing Co. in a storefront in the Lincoln Building, 85-89 Public Square, in downtown Watertown.

Firefighter Daniel Daugherty thought he had plans in place to open a microbrewery and tap room in the Lincoln Building.

But a glitch with zoning is complicating plans to operate the Boots Brewing Co. in a storefront in the Lincoln Building, 85-89 Public Square.

He was recently told by the city that brew pubs are not allowed in the downtown business district; only larger scale breweries can operate in light industrial zones.

The city’s Planning Department is working on resolving the issue.

Mr. Daugherty said he believes the snafu can be worked out with the city, although the issue will delay the business’s opening.

“I’m still interested in the project,” he said Tuesday.

Plans call for setting up a wine tasting room with an upstairs tap room and beer made in the basement on the J.B. Wise parking lot side of the building.

Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, said microbreweries are currently restricted in the downtown district because producing beer is “the principal use” of a business, not an allowable “accessory use.”

To get it back on track, city planners will be asked to simply to amend the downtown district to allow them. The Planning Board meets at 3 p.m. March 7 to consider the zoning amendment.

Since it plans to produce only about 150 barrels a year, the microbrewery should be allowed to exist downtown, Mr. Lumbis said. It’s just the kind of business the city wants to encourage to open downtown, he said.

“They attract traffic and activities at the times we want, at night on weekends,” he said.

Once the Planning Board makes the change, the City Council needs to schedule a public hearing on March 21 and then take up the amendment at its April 3 meeting. After all of that gets sorted out, Mr. Daugherty will then apply for a federal brewery permit.

Two similar proposed businesses — Spokes Craft Beer and Tapas Restaurant at 81 Public Square, and a wine bar in the nearby Franklin Building — can operate downtown by simply getting state liquor licenses. They will sell alcohol, not make it, Mr. Lumbis explained.

City officials believe the $13-million Lincoln Building project is a crucial component to downtown’s revival.

The microbrewery will join two other businesses in the soon-to-be-renovated Lincoln Building. A yoga studio opened last fall and The Marcy Spa plans to move from its existing location on State Street.

In December, the owners of the building received a $950,000 state grant to renovate the storefronts and complete some other improvements.

In 2012, local developer Brian H. Murray and Purcell Construction purchased the historic building from a Long Island corporation for $500,000. Since then, they spent about $1.3 million on restoring the building’s facade.