Church rethinks position on brew pub
by BRIAN NADIG
Before the City Council approved a zoning ordinance which allows a brew pub to operate in a former Masonic temple at 4240 W. Irving Park Road, Alderman John Arena (45th) and an attorney for a group of residents issued opposing letters about the project.
One of the issues of contention is whether a neighboring church has changed its position and now objects to the project. Harvest Christian Center Church, 4020 N. Tripp Ave., is adjacent to the site of the planned Eris Brewery and Ciderhouse.
Under state law, new liquor licenses cannot be issued within 100 feet of a church, and after the church issued a letter stating that it had no objections to the project last year, the Illinois General Assembly amended the liquor code to eliminate that restriction for the Eris site.
However, the church issued a new letter on March 2 which states that it objects to the Eris proposal and that the letter serves as "corrected letter to our pronouncement" on May 19, 2014.
Attorney Ed Campbell, who represents residents who oppose the zoning change, sent an e-mail with a copy of the March 2 letter to all 50 aldermen two days before the City Council approved rezoning the Eris site to C1-5, which eliminates parking requirements for the property and allows the manufacture of beer and cider. Campbell asked the aldermen to consider the new letter and his clients’ concerns about traffic, parking, safety and health issues.
A member of Arena’s staff then sent a letter to the aldermen the day before the March 18 vote on the zoning amendment in which Arena questions whether the church board member who wrote the new letter had the authority to do so and states that the proposal has more support than any zoning project he has seen in the ward.
Last year Arena and a representative of the Old Irving Park Association, which supports the project, met with the church’s board of directors, and Arena went to the church to meet it congregation, according to Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh.
"The full board of the church abutting the property issued a letter of no objection when we went to meet with legislators to exempt the property from the distance restrictions in the Illinois Liquor Control Act," Arena wrote in his letter to the aldermen. "For one member to suddenly claim objections now is both disingenuous and irrelevant to the zoning change."
Church board secretary Mary Wiley said that she reviewed the March 2 letter that she wrote with other board members and that they consented to releasing it. Wiley said that the board does not necessarily object to a restaurant and bar at the Eris site but that members have concerns about the scope of the project.
Wiley said that it was the understanding of church officials that the all of the brew pub’s operations would be housed in the four-story building but that the church recently learned that construction of an outdoor dining patio and a grain silo is planned. She said that church members also are concerned that the number of on-site parking spaces will be reduced from 43 to 17 and that the new zoning of the site eliminates parking requirements.
The restaurant and bar will have occupancy of about 190, and there are long-term plans to add banquet space on the upper floors of the building.
The number of on-site parking spaces would have to be reduced for any new use of the site because the existing parking spaces and drive aisles are too narrow and do not meet code, according to project attorney John Pikarski Jr.
"The owners will work for an agreement to share parking with other property owners in the area before there is any banquet activity," Brugh said. He said that there is "no banquet component at this time."
Area resident Sue Berganski said that one of the main concerns of residents is that a banquet facility would more than double the occupancy of the site. Berganski said that one of the operators of Eris told residents at a meeting with project officials and Arena that the banquet space could serve at least 200 people.
Campbell wrote in the letter that residents are concerned that the brew pub would operate "later than midnight in a mixed-use residential area" and that the fermentation process at the brewery would produce "strong odors and fumes." The letter also said that the project would increase traffic and parking congestion on side streets in the area.
Berganski said that she and some of her neighbors decided to hire an attorney because their concerns were not being addressed. She said that Arena has suggested that residents apply for resident-only permit parking for their blocks but that resident-only parking would not resolve all of the issues and some residents prefer not to have permit parking.
Campbell said that the fact that residents hired legal representation shows their level of concern about the brewery. "You’re putting an industrial grade facility is a residential area," he said.
Arena wrote in his letter that when he met with residents "it became clear that much of the opposition had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with the actual project. What concerns the owners could mitigate, they did."
Arena is in an April 7 runoff election against John Garrido, who lost to Arena by 30 votes in 2011. Garrido said at a recent debate that as alderman he would review the project with residents before making a decision on the zoning request for Eris.
Brugh said that Arena will continue to address any issues that may come up with the project. He said that the church "never came to us with their new concerns" and that some of the residents who have expressed concern about the project also have complained about parking problems created by the church.
The church’s second letter was addressed the city liquor commission.
The operators of the brew pub are expected to purchase the property this spring from the current occupant and owner of the site, Korean Bethel Presbyterian Church, which is planning to move to a different location. The restaurant is scheduled to open in the fall of 2016, and the project will require fire code improvements to the building, which opened in 1912.
"This the first time the property has been on the property tax rolls since at least 1910," Brugh said. "When the plan for the property was presented to more than 100 members of the community, it was very well received."
Petitions have been circulated both for and against the project, which has an estimated cost of $5 million.
Campbell has sent a letter objecting to the Eris project to the city liquor commissioner, but a liquor license has not been applied for.
The Illinois Liquor Control Commission voted 5-2 in favor of granting brew pub and wine-making licenses for the project last fall despite concerns raised by the commission’s legal counsel about whether state law allows the manufacture of two types of alcohol at the same location.