Nano-brewery planned for Plains Road in Claremont
The city planning board approved a waiver Monday night that will allow a planned nano-brewery on Plains Road to go forward.
The building at 354 Plains Road has been sitting empty for some years, until it was recently bought by Eric Dean Rullo, who is hoping to open a nano-brewery to produce small batch craft beers on the site.
Although the last site plan review had taken place in 2007, Rullo was asking for a waiver from a new site plan review since the building hasn’t changed. Having bought the building 60 days ago, Rullo said he hasn’t been able to do anything with it except “rake the grass” since he needs permission to go forward with anything more effective.
“I’m just asking not to have to spend $10,000 on a new site plan,” he said. “The building is essentially unchanged since 2004.”
City planner Mike McCrory said Rullo has been meeting with planning department staff since before he purchased the building and that their interpretation is it’s an industrial zone and the current plan doesn’t depart from that. “The waiver is to get the operation started up.”
However, McCrory said he advised bringing it to the planning board so they could set some parameters on future use or development. “You could set a threshold when the applicant would come for a full site review. Hear him out and decide whether it warrants a site plan review.”
“This owner is looking to clean up the site and use it for the proposed use,” said McCrory.
Rullo stepped to the podium to explain his vision for the brewery, describing it as “very small” with perhaps 31,000 gallons being produced annually.
Eric Dean Rullo (right) listens as City Planner Mike McCrory speaks.
The sticky wicket for planning board members and a handful of neighbors who showed up for the public hearing was the tasting room part. Sugar River Brewing, as planned, will include a tasting room and some prepared foods as required by New Hampshire law.
Ed Corley and Lori Fletcher, who live directly across the road, came prepared with a list of questions, such as what would be the operating hours “for the brewpub phase.”
Rullo assured them there are no plans for a brewpub. “We will have food as required by law, but we will not be a restaurant. The tasting room isn’t my main focus.”
As the sole owner/operator, Rullo also said the hours will be limited. He likes to work 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. although he acknowledged that weekends during the summer the hours may be later, say 11 a.m. to 8:30 or “nine p.m. at the latest.”
He described the tasting room as a place where patrons are served one-on-one, usually small amounts or “flights” of beer. “Nano breweries have a pricing tier that eliminates a bar environment.”
Rullo also bought 350 Plains Road but has no plans to develop it right now. He bought it because he needed the parking and the driveway access, he said. “It’s basically going to be boarded up. It’s not included in this application.”
Signage and lighting will be minimal and discreet, according to Rullo. Corley also asked about disposal of the mash after its use in brewing.
“It’s about 45 gallons of spent barley,” said Rullo. “Traditionally we have farmers come pick it up.” Spent grains are commonly sold as livestock feed.
Mayor Charlene Lovette had some reservations about granting the waiver. “I think there’s potential in this project for growth ... It’s been my experience that a site visit will often bring up questions that wouldn’t otherwise have been thought of.”
Lovette said she is hoping to avoid a repeat of the neighbor’s complaints about the Claremont Speedway. However, the rest of the planning board felt further investigation was unnecessary.
“This fine gentleman is willing to invest in a piece of property that has been allowed to languish for a number of years,” said David Putnam. He went on to say the board has spent a lot of time over the last few years updating the building codes and zoning requirements and he was pleased with Corley and Fletcher’s list of questions, which Rullo had addressed.
In the end the neighbors had no objections to the nano-brewery and the planning board approved the waiver, taking care to make it specific to 354 Plains Road, including the use of parking at 350 Plains Road. Any further change in use, or a possible use of 350 Plains Road, will require a site plan review by the board.
-- GLYNIS HART