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Council to look at new rule: Brew beer here, drink beer here

Thursday, March 20, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

If the Austin City Council approves changes to city code today, thirsty Austinites will be able to drink their beer straight from the source.


Last week, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve code changes that will allow beer sales and consumption at breweries. Commissioner Stephen Oliver recused himself.


Last June, the Texas Legislature passed bills changing the state law to allow craft breweries to sell a limited amount of beer on-site for on-premises consumption. In October 2013, the Council passed a resolution asking for a similar change in city code. After several months of hashing out the details, the city is moving forward with those amendments.


According to the new regulations, the sale of beer produced on-site for on-site consumption will be a permitted use if the brewery is located more than 540 feet from any single family residential use. If it is closer, it will be a conditional use (and will have to go through the conditional use process.)


The area that sales will be allowed in will be 33 percent of the brewery, or 5,000 square feet, whichever is less. That takes outdoor patios into account, as well. Patios and other outdoor areas will be counted as part of the brewery’s square footage for this purpose. Responding to concerns from brewers, people will also be able to drink beer on tours, which will be exempt from the area requirements.


“That’s to stop the whole floor of an entire brewery from being turned over to a cocktail use,” explained Senior Planner Greg Dutton. “This is supposed to be in conjunction with being a regular brewery.”


The regulations also include a late change that exempts breweries located in the Airport Overlay from the size restrictions. Dutton explained that this is because residential uses are restricted or not permitted in that overlay, and so people were unlikely to be disrupted by the brewery,


The Airport Overlay is also where a planned tasting room for the Live Oak Brewery is located. When the city moved the airport to its current location, it used federal money to purchase nearby houses. As a condition of using those federal dollars, the city also created an overlay which prohibits certain uses in the overlay.  The 22-acre piece of land that Live Oak is moving to is within that overlay, in the area that totally prohibits residential use.


Live Oak founder Chip McElroy explained his situation at the Codes and Ordinances Committee of the Planning Commission. At the Feb. 18 meeting, he protested the size restrictions, and argued that he had plenty of space on his 22 acres to provide parking for the tasting room.


“In our particular situation, we have beautiful, beautiful outdoor seating under live oak trees – we’re Live Oak Brewing Company – and we have a lot of it… We’re not going to try and seat all of that from the get-go, but I could see getting bigger and bigger and seating it in the future. And if there’s a 5,000 square-foot limit and that’s also on outdoor seating, we won’t be able to do that,” said McElroy. “I think the city’s going to lose out when we have this potential to become a destination. This is a tourist deal extraordinaire.”


The code changes also detail parking requirements for breweries that offer on-site consumption and a list of the zoning districts where on-site consumption will be allowed. The zoning districts are industrial, reflecting where the city’s breweries are located. There are currently 13 craft breweries located in Austin.


Council is scheduled to consider the code change at 4 p.m. today or later.

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