Modern Times Beer to open restaurant instead of tasting room

A famed regional brewery will open a restaurant in downtown Encinitas instead of a tasting room as it originally planned.

The new proposal by Modern Times Beer won unanimous city Planning Commission approval Jan. 18.

"I think we're adding a great new business to town," Commissioner Greg Drakos said just before the vote.

It was the second time in less than a year that the commission has approved a proposal from Modern Times. Last summer, the commission narrowly backed the company's original, tasting room proposal in a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Glenn O'Grady and Bruce Ehlers opposed.

That earlier decision was appealed by the Encinitas Citizens Committee, a group of people who've been campaigning to reduce alcohol-related problems in the downtown region. The citizens' committee asked the City Council to overturn the commission's decision, but the council never heard the item because Modern Times officials decided to revamp their plans after the group's appeal was filed.

On Jan. 18, Modern Times attorney David Israel said his company had clearly heard the residents' concerns and revised its plans accordingly. The new proposal calls for a restaurant that will offer food service throughout the day.

"It is not a bar, it is a restaurant," he stressed.

Modern Times, which has tasting rooms in Point Loma and North Park, plans to put its Encinitas restaurant in a now-vacant building at the northern end of downtown's portion of Coast Highway 101 next to Filiberto's Mexican Food and across the street from the historic La Paloma Theatre.

Plans call for the place to be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, and food service will be available during all of those hours, Israel said.

The county Sheriff's Department, which opposed the earlier proposal, has endorsed the new version, a department representative told the Planning Commission, mentioning that food service tends to reduce people's alcohol consumption.

Residents' concerns also appeared to have eased somewhat. Only one person, Encinitas resident Laurie Michaels, spoke in opposition to Modern Times' new plans Jan. 18. Last summer, the earlier tasting room plan brought out 10 opposing speakers.

Michaels focused Jan. 18 on parking concerns, saying the restaurant would add to downtown's parking woes.

However, planning commissioners said their primary concern with the new proposal was whether the restaurant might later "morph" into a bar where food sales are minor compared to alcohol revenue.They decided to require Modern Times to provide documentation annually showing that the restaurant's alcohol sales do not exceed 50 percent of its gross sales on a quarterly basis.

This is the second time the commission has placed such a requirement on a downtown, alcohol-serving establishment — it previously did so for Union Kitchen & Tap — and commissioners said they would like to make it a standard requirement.

-- Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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