Washington’s craft brew industry has grown by leaps and bounds since 2006 when the state beer commission was first created by the state legislature. While that growth can be attributed in part to the regional popularity of homebrewing and enthusiasm for microbeer variety, local governments can play a pivotal role in where and how those breweries appear.
Some cities have opted for a business climate that enables brewers to make the leap from hobby to full-time business. That is the situation in Kenmore, which now has three craft breweries along the Burke-Gilman Trail on Northeast 175th – dubbed “Brew Row.” All three owners credit the city’s cooperation on land-use, zoning and permitting with helping their businesses get off the ground smoothly.
“It’s really helpful to have that acceptance coming from the first jurisdiction we have to get approval from,” 192 Brewing Owner Derek Wyckoff said. “It’s really nice to have that threshold be a positive experience.”
Wyckoff’s brewery first opened at its current location in 2009 and is believed to be the smallest in the state – the “192” refers to the square footage of the shed he initially used for brewing. After several years of homebrewing, he decided to go commercial in 2007 but desired to keep the business on his property. However, the federal permit he needed didn’t allow a microbrewery in his garage. When he approached the city council for a land-use variance, “they approved…with the understanding we wouldn’t have crowds of people once we got popular, and we would then find a place to open a commercial taproom,” he said. “They very badly wanted to support a brewery in the community. They did everything in their power to kind of open the gates they didn’t even know were closed.”
As demand for his beer increased, Wyckoff later decided to move into a formal space, and found inspiration for where to site it while walking the Burke-Gilman trail. “I’ve ridden the trail many, many times with my friends. There was a long stretch that didn’t have any place to stop for a beer or sandwich. And I thought ‘How perfect.’ Putting it on the Burke-Gilman was a no-brainer. It’s been a challenge to keep up with demand ever since.”
His aspiration fit well with the city’s 2009 economic development strategy, which included “recruiting a micro-brewery…that would benefit from proximity to….the Burke-Gilman trail….”
Ethan Savaglio had a similar experience while looking for space to open Nine Yards Brewing several years later. After searching in Seattle, he turned to Kenmore and found warehouse space available in the same vicinity as 192 Brewing.
Although the property’s light commercial zoning at the time forbade the sale of alcohol, the city council voted to remove the restriction at the same time Savaglio was considering the location. That code change and the landlord’s permission for them to build out, “are pretty much why we’re there,” he said.
“We were informed that it (a craft brewery) was something Kenmore was interested in bringing in…You could tell already that the city was forward thinking. With it being along the trail, having businesses that were family-friendly where you can ride in and play with dogs…is a real boon to the city.”
Prior to that, Kenmore streamlined its permitting process based on feedback from the local business community, according to Assistant City Manager Nancy Ousley. “We know that builders and businesses and developers talk to one another, and that helps us get the word out about of Kenmore as a business-friendly community…that is respectful of people’s time and dollars as they go through the process of getting a business started.”
In addition to eliminating the alcohol sale restriction, the city council approved a pilot project that reduced traffic impact fees and parking space requirements for businesses along Brew Row, in the hope of encouraging more businesses to occupy existing warehouse space.
“If you were in Georgetown or in other cities that have a lot of existing buildings, commercial buildings and on street parking, you wouldn’t dream of having someone who was coming to occupy existing space having to supply parking or pay the kind of impact fees that really are designed for new construction,” Ousley said. “That’s what led us to recognize that this is one part of our downtown that could be a pretty nice place for interesting business to come in.”
For Jen Boyd of Cairn Brewing, which just celebrated its first anniversary, the city’s proactive approach to helping prospective businesses contrasted with other local governments and even chambers. “They (other jurisdictions) were nice, but they weren’t helpful. Ironically, we found out there were landlords that didn’t want breweries as a tenant. We kind of had this starry-eyed vision that everyone wanted a brewery. It is daunting, and you hear these horror stories of taking years to figure. We very fortunately did not have that experience. Going from finding a lease and opening our doors (so quickly) was a godsend.”
It’s a reputation Ousley says the city hopes to maintain. “My work program for this year is to take advantage of this wonderful synergy that we have going on and a very concentrated area with craft breweries. Hopefully some more are looking to Kenmore as a really hospitable place for these kind of quality craft breweries enterprises.”