ELYRIA — A group of craft brewers are planning to open a business they said will help Elyrians “unplug” from the stresses of life over a craft beer, pizza and conversation on the banks of the Black River.
The partners behind Unplugged Brewing went before Elyria City Council’s Community Development Committee on Monday to request the property at 201 East Bridge St. be rezoned from business automotive oriented to business general. This would allow them to put an estimated $1 million of investment into the building and grounds to turn it into a brewery and restaurant.
Committee members voted unanimously to recommend to full Council that the property be rezoned. It will take three readings of the proposed ordinance and a public hearing before that comes to pass.
Partners Carlos Lopez, Tim O’Neill and Jose Candelario told the committee Monday their investment will refurbish the former Al’s Auto Glass, and that they will hire seven to 10 employees. The trio paid $64,500 for the property in March, according to Lorain County Auditor’s Office records.
O’Neill said they believe the location has “untapped potential, no pun intended” for their family-friendly craft brewery and wood-fired pizza restaurant that also will serve as a place for local food trucks to park and offer other handmade food. Business hours would not extend past midnight on weekends.
A waterfall on the Black River in back of the business would be viewable from the patio the partners plan to build. Half the building would be dedicated to the brewery operation, and the other half to a bar where customers would be served. Occupancy is expected to be 70 to 80 customers maximum.
“It will be a place to unplug, so to speak, from daily stresses” with a “relaxing ambiance” within sight of the “beautiful and calming” waterfall O’Neill said.
Two issues that came up at Monday’s meeting were a lack of parking and neighbors on Tannery Street concerned about noise.
“We’re really excited, it sounds awesome,” said Councilwoman Donna Mitchell, D-6th Ward. But parking is at a premium on the site with fewer than 10 spots now.
Lopez said the partners would like to “squeeze in” an additional seven to nine spaces, giving them 15 to 18. They also hope to strike a deal with neighboring businesses on the east side of East Bridge Street to use existing parking after daytime business hours, he said.
Melonie Houske, who lives on Tannery Street, said she didn’t want to see a return to the days when Pounders Cafe was a nuisance to her and her neighbors. The bar, which was at 146 East Bridge St. and is now nothing but an empty lot, was the scene of live music and noise until the early morning hours, she said.
Pounders was “a nightmare for me,” said Houske, who told the committee she has lived in her house since 1988. “I’m worried about the same kind of atmosphere.”
O’Neill said the partners in Unplugged do not plan to have live music, just “upscale, good quality beer and handmade food.” They want to get along with their neighbors, he said.
Members of the committee including Mitchell and Councilman Jack Cerra, D-7th Ward, urged Unplugged to do just that: meet with their neighbors and listen to their concerns as the process of rezoning the property moves along over the next six weeks.
Calling the plan a positive for the city, Council President Mike Lotko said craft breweries like Unplugged are a “big thing” and are “laid-back places” with “no riff-raff.”
Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large, said he understood citizen concerns and agreed with them, but “This group of men is going to invest in our community, ... I think it’s a no-brainer.”
Candelario said the average cost of a beer will be $5 to $6, and no other liquor will be served on the premises, making for a specific kind of clientele. “This is not a place to just hang out and drink cheap beer,” he said.
Mayor Holly Brinda said the city has been in conversation with Unplugged and with neighboring businesses, and that the planned brewery and restaurant is on the eastern edge of the city’s federal Opportunity Zone. Investors in such zones can receive tax benefits from the federal government if they invest in such zones in economically distressed communities.
There are “very good ways to resolve issues with parking and space” as well as possible noise barriers or buffers, Brinda said, offering Unplugged the city’s help. “The city is conscious of the issues and willing to work with these folks. ... It’s a larger investment in the larger community.”
In other business
The committee voted unanimously to send to full Council a request by The Road to Hope Inc. for a conditional use permit to convert a former church at 600 Delaware Ave. in the Eastern Heights neighborhood into a 16-room recovery housing center. Jeff Kamms, executive director of Road to Hope, said the level 2 recovery house will house 14 clients and two house managers who ensure rules are followed.
The recovery house will be staffed 24/7 for people who are living on their own and in a 90-to-120 day recovery program. Most will be full-time employed and living just like they would be in an apartment building with other unrelated individuals, he said.
There will not be any on-site counselors, but rather residents will work with counselors from The LCADA Way, Firelands Counseling and Recovery Service and Psych & Psych Services of Elyria. Some residents will stay only for the duration of their programs, though Kamms said others have stayed for several years while in recovery and attending Lorain County Community College or because of their support and care needs before moving to assisted living.
There is “no set time frame” in which residents must move out, he told the committee, adding that Road to Hope has 14 recovery houses in “four or five” cities in two counties and has been in operation 12 years.
The committee also recommended to full Council a request for a conditional use permit to upgrade the sign outside the Redeemer Lutheran Church, at 295 College Park Drive, to an LED changeable display. The work will be done by Wagner Sign Co. on West Ridge Road, the committee learned.