Wisconsin Dells may be home to a brewery, if details of its operation can be worked out by the city's Plan Commission.
Bruce McPhee, chairman of the board, and Tanner Brethorst, president and brewmaster, of the Port Huron Brewing Company, LLC, applied for a conditional use permit to open a brewery with a tasting room in the former Blue Hills Litho building in the city's business park off Highway 23.
The commission tabled the permit to allow the brewery to revise its application while the commission figures out a way to rewrite the zoning in the industrial park and set conditions on when beer could be sold.
In a report for the commission, Assistant Public Works Director Chris Tollaksen said the zoning in the business park, which is industrial, does allow a brewery, but does not allow retail sales.
In a public hearing on the permit prior to the commission discussing it, Oaklawn resident Jack Waterman said he basically liked the idea, but needed more information such as whether it would have a tasting room, "which is another way of saying a beer bar," and how many seats it would have in the tasting room. He said a brewery is the right idea for the business park, but the city should not let other retail and commercial customers come into it. The Waterman family owns Moosejaw Pizza and Dells Brewing Company in Lake Delton.
Richard Preissel, owner of Long Life Roofing, which has its operations in the park, said he had a concern about traffic to the brewery. Broadway Road is in rough shape and more traffic would not be good for it. The park is accessible from both Broadway Road and Highway 23.
Preissel's closing remark, that he had "a number of employees willing to help with tasting," brought chuckles from the commission and audience.
The question of retail sales of the beer and having a tasting room concerned members of the commission also.
Alderperson Dan Gavinski, a commissioner, said the idea is good but he is troubled by turning an industrial area into retail. He worried the tasting room would become a beer bar for summer employees and might open the park to the establishment of a "gentleman's club," a euphemism for a strip joint or a bar having nude dancers.
McPhee said the tasting room would only account for about 10 percent of sales but it could account for 20 to 25 percent of the brewery's profits. He said the brewery wants to sell growlers, a half-gallon jug that is filled at the brewery than capped and shrink wrapped so the customer can take it home. He said the company also wants to sell T-shirts, hats and other items with the brewery's logo so it could get word out about its products. Without a tasting room, the brewery would have "one hand tied behind its back" as it started, he said.
Commissioners also suggested the brewery seek a commercial building in the downtown area.
McPhee said the company had looked at a large number of buildings in the Dells and needed one with a 16 foot ceiling to accommodate the brewing equipment. The company wants to be a brewery, not a tap room or brew pub, he said. If the brewery were put downtown, the cost would "explode," he said. Brethorst noted that a number of other craft breweries in Wisconsin are located in business park and that site would be more appropriate if the brewery's beer proved popular and "took off" causing to increase production.
Commissioner Mike Freel said most breweries are in industrial parks and most have tasting room where people can buy a glass of beer beyond the free samples given.
Saying he also had concerns about the brewery turning into a bar, Jesse DeFosse said he did some "homework" on Tanner Brethorst, who has been working the last six and a half years with craft-brewers, Tyranena Brewing Co., Lake Louie Brewing and Capital Brewery. "This is someone who will help our community," DeFosse said, who added that he spoke with brewers and they talked highly of Brethorst. Allowing the brewery "will benefit us. We can't bend all the rules, but the next step is how to make this happen."
"The way to address this," said city attorney Joe Hasler was to figure out if it could be done as a conditional use in the industrial district. He also told the commission it should not do the work piecemeal, that is approve the brewery at one meeting and change the zoning code or set conditions at another. Hasler said the zoning code could be changed so any manufacturer in the industrial zone could have a retail outlet store or showroom. He said the city could create a conditional use that would look at a proposal for the park and how to give manufacturers the opportunity to do the retail.
Hasler also reassured the commission that allowing the brewery with a tap room would not set a precedent for allowing gentleman's clubs.
After Mayor Eric Helland polled commissioners to see if it had a consensus on allowing the brewery and working out the details on zoning and conditional use limits on it. When he got the consensus, he asked McPhee if they wanted to rewrite the application, and he said yes. Then a motion was approved to table the application so everything could be acted on simultaneously.
By tabling, Hasler said the company will not have to pay another $500 conditional use permit fee.