Tasting room brews debate, receives approval

Planning Commissioner Kevin Doyle listened to his colleagues' arguments on why a popular San Diego brewery shouldn't be allowed in Encinitas — an oversaturation of bars downtown and all the attendant ills that come with it. City staff, on the heels of the city’s sweeping reforms to crack down on alcohol, were urging the commission to say no. He listened to impassioned testimony from Encinitas’ powerful contingent of anti-alcohol advocates. He worried aloud about the lack of parking downtown, about the crowds that would flock to the proposed Modern Times tasting room, and tipped his hand that he’d vote against the proposal, all but sealing its fate.

"I'm not happy for anybody," Doyle said. "This situation is unfortunate. This is not an easy issue to wrap our heads around. This whole issue has really torn me up."

And then, his thinking turned. Fellow commissioners Greg Drakos and Al Apuzzo doubled down on their stance that Modern Times was everything the city could want in a property owner. Doyle changed course, sending up a round of applause from one half of the packed room.

"The location is a bad location for retail," Doyle said of the vacant spot at 470 South Coast Highway 101 across from the La Paloma Theater. "No one wants to go down D Street down that hill. Now, we finally have Handels Ice Cream. We're starting to bridge people to that area. [Modern Times] can be that bridge."

Doyle’s change of heart swayed the Planning Commission’s 2-2 deadlock on July 20 — commissioners Bruce Ehlers and Glenn O'Grady were opposed — and gave Modern Times’ 150-seat proposal a dramatic green light.

The commission heard from a packed room of residents and business owners who appeared split over the new business, which would be open seven days a week from noon to 10 p.m. and not serve food. (Patrons are welcome to bring their own food.)

The establishment would also allow the off-site sales of growlers and cans of beer. Peak hours would be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. after nearby businesses close, said Modern Times CEO Jacob McKean.

He said the brewery — which also has locations in North Park and Point Loma — has a proven track record of encouraging customers and employees to come by mass transit. The building also has four parking spaces behind it. McKean said this will help free up street parking and prevent intoxicated driving.

He added the brewery has never had any complaints at the North Park location in a mixed-use building, does not allow minors, and discourages party buses.

The brewery also vocally supported a deemed approved ordinance (DAO) that Encinitas passed in April, which will allow the city to enforce nuisance codes, according to uniform standards across the city, he said.

"We welcome a regulation that ensures we're a positive presence in the community," McKean said. "If responsible owners like us are not allowed to open, that shows there is a defacto moratorium for new licenses."

Commissioners Greg Drakos and Al Apuzzo agreed. Drakos said the city should not discourage new businesses from coming in because of "bad actors."

"Evolution will root out the bad businesses over time," he said. "We should take advantage of these great businesses that want to be in our town."

Apuzzo added that because of the DAO, if the city would deny Modern Times, it would give the impression that Encinitas has a moratorium on liquor licenses downtown.

In April, Encinitas passed a wide-ranging package of reforms including: Alcohol service to stop at 10 p.m. for new businesses along the coastal corridor, with possible later cutoffs once they prove their good behavior; establish a noise ordinance downtown and update the standards elsewhere; stiffer fines for code violations; and measures to curb party buses and the long lines of patrons waiting to get into bars.

McKean estimated Modern Times would bring tax revenue in the “low six figures” for the city. But O'Grady and fellow commissioner Bruce Ehlers said they believed Modern Times would bring in more people in an already over-saturated downtown. Staff said there is a total of 38 alcohol establishments on Coast Highway 101 between Encinitas Boulevard and K Street.

Ehlers also added that the sheriff's department has seen an increase in complaints at alcohol-serving establishments downtown.

Nearby residents and business owners also believed Modern Times would not be a good neighbor.

"I don't want our town to become like Las Vegas," said Carol Main, a 46-year resident of Leucadia. "The sole purpose to enjoy beer is not my vision of this town."

McKean said alcohol-serving establishments should not be lumped together.

"Craft beer is not the enemy here," he said. "Irresponsible license holders are the ones creating these complaints today."

Drakos agreed, making the motion to go against staff's recommendation for denial, with Apuzzo and Doyle following suit.

Modern Times will appear before the planning commission again later this year for approval of conditions.

In an email following the vote, McKean considered the meeting “an emotional rollercoaster.”

“We’re very happy that the commission understood that we share the city’s values, and that our presence will be a benefit to downtown,” he said. “The opponents of our application expressed dissatisfaction with the behavior of some licensees downtown — a sentiment we share — but they were not able to offer a plan for changing it. The argument that won the day for us is that letting high-quality, responsible operators like us open downtown is the only way to begin changing the culture and reputation of the area's nightlife.”

Union-Tribune Community Press reporter Sebastian Montes contributed to this report.

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