NEWPORT — Newport zoning officials denied a variance to a proposed nanobrewery and restaurant in a residential neighborhood, calling the proposal a nice idea and good property but “the wrong location.”
The Newport Zoning Board unanimously denied a variance request on Thursday to resident Edward Cortez to operate a small brewery and restaurant on his property at 98 Elm St., an eight-bedroom home situated on 2.75 acres of land.
Cortez, who runs an Airbnb (bed and breakfast) from the main house, said he and his business partners sought to operate a small brewery and bar in the barn located on the property, with a tasting room inside the house for a capacity for 20 to 30 customers. There would also be a biergarten for customers to use when weather permits.
A nanobrewery is typically defined as a small brewery that brews less than 15,000 gallons of beer per year.
While Newport ordinances do not explicitly allow for a brewery in that neighborhood, Cortez said he believed the business would keep “in spirit with the neighborhood.”
“We’re trying to offer a residential park-like experience where you can go out and enjoy a couple of beers with your family and enjoy the neighborhood,” Cortez said.
In a second but related proposal, Cortez wanted to use his second property at 95 Elm St., located directly across the street from 98 Elm St., as an overflow parking lot and storage facility for his company’s equipment
But the neighborhood in question, with a reputation for having a relatively high traffic flow, raised concerns from abutters and the zoning board.
“ We’ve had many concerns throughout the years on that street,” said Newport Zoning Board member Tim Beard. “I feel if this was on a different street further out maybe it would be more foreseeable to do it, but I definitely see a lot of danger [in that location].”
“If you’ve been on Elm Street, this is dangerous, folks,” said Brad Cossingham, Cortez’s neighbor. “Elm Street is a race track. And if you are going to put overflow parking on the opposite side of the street, we hear accidents several times a month at that intersection [with Pine Street] and these are serious accidents.”
Cossingham’s wife, Norma Cossingham, also opposed the brewery request, saying she believed having a bar and biergarten next door would only be a nuisance rather than add value to the neighborhood.
Zoning board members strongly agreed that allowing an overflow parking lot across Elm Street, especially when people will be drinking, would be a recipe for disaster.
Newport’s Planning and Zoning Director Christina Donovan said she had already discussed with Cortez that the overflow lot would be “a hard sell” and had recommended limiting the parking to the brewery site.
But the zoning board still felt a drinking establishment would pose a conflict to the neighborhood.
“Certainly Newport would benefit from a nanobrewery [and] the parcels would make a great site,” said Newport Selectboard Chair Jeffrey Kessler, who sits on the board. “But they are in the wrong zone.”
This same neighborhood was a topic of concern last summer when the Zoning Board heard the proposal of Walpole developer Jack Franks for a 42-unit affordable housing building on Spring Street.
The zoning board ultimately granted Franks a special exception, but board members deliberated extensively about the safety concerns with additional traffic in the neighborhood.
For years Elm Street, along with the neighboring Pine and Spring Streets, has been a popular thru-way for area drivers and commercial vehicles to cut through town and avoid traffic lights.
Google Maps is partly to blame, according to town officials, as the navigation app commonly routes drivers through the neighborhood.
Vehicles frequently speed through the neighborhood and there are no sidewalks.
Cortez’s property for the proposed brewery abuts Franks’ affordable apartment building being constructed, Donovan noted.