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New taprooms may have to be ‘family friendly’

New taprooms may have to be ‘family friendly’

Planning Commission recommends new rules for taprooms in microbrewery district; City Council to vote Aug. 6

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Innovation does not happen without complications. When Visalia became the first city in Tulare County to develop a special district for craft beer taprooms and boutique wine tasting rooms in 2016, it also became a testing ground for the first type 23 ABC licensed establishment in the city limits. 

Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), the licensing agency for alcohol permits, defines type 23 as a non-retail, non-restaurant micro brewery or brew pub that produces less than 60,000 barrels of beer per year for draft purchases at a taproom and produces bottles for sale by retailers. Unlike other ABC licenses, type 23 taprooms allow people under the age of 21 without providing food or non-alcoholic drinks for its customers. Since opening last summer, Barrelhouse was and is the only type 23 licensed taproom in the microbrewery district that encompasses the eastern portion of downtown between Santa Fe Street and Ben Maddox Way. Kids can be seen playing a game of cornhole as parents enjoy craft brews while waiting in line for a food truck in the lawn patio area behind the building on Main Street. Teens often drink sodas next to parents with pints while listening to live music. 

The problem, according to the Visalia Police Department, is that they aren’t required to offer sodas, games, or music to underage patrons.

Lt. Brent Abbot with the Visalia Police Department shared those concerns with the Visalia Planning Commission last month. Abbott, who has 27 years of law enforcement experience with the Visalia Police Department, said “bars and nightclubs have always been a problem.” He also said underage drinking has always been a problem in Visalia, as evidenced by a recent decoy operation where four of 13 establishments were caught selling alcohol to minors. He acknowledged that Barrelhouse was not among those establishments and has never been cited for underage drinking, but also noted not every taproom that locates in the district would provide those underage options without a permit requiring them to do so. 

“Limiting the time and requiring activities for minors is very important to maintaining that family friendly atmosphere,” Abbott said. 

Paul Schiebel, principal planner for the City of Visalia, said the purpose of the item on the June 11 agenda was to clearly establish the criteria for a taproom to be considered “family friendly.” Schiebel presented an amendment to the microbrewery district requiring taprooms to only allow underage patrons if they are accompanied by an adult at all times; offer games, activities, non-alcoholic beverages and snack foods; devot at least 20% of their indoor area to games and activities; as well as prohibit children from being at the business after 10 p.m. and from sitting at the bar or serving counter. The amendments were based on comments from the City Council’s work session on Feb. 5.

“The direction to staff was to revise the zoning text and require new establishments to do a conditional use permit,” Schiebel said.

Commissioner Sarah Peariso asked if VPD was receiving calls for underage drinking at other family-oriented establishments that serve alcohol, such as Chuck E. Cheese’s, Visalia Billiards or Adventure Park. 

Abbott said he wasn’t sure but did share that VPD distinguishes between those businesses and microbreweries, comparing taprooms like Barrelhouse to bars like The Green Olive. “What is the main purpose of these establishments? For a taproom, their primary function is to sell alcohol, whereas the other businesses have a primary function and the sale of alcohol is secondary to that.”

Visalia Chamber CEO Gail Zurek said the comparison was unfair calling Barrelhouse a “model business.” She said the taproom created a space where kids play while parents can socialize over a beer in a community space, noting that Barrelhouse is only allowed to sell beer and only beer the business brews themselves. “There is a reason for families to go there other than to sit and drink alcohol.”

Zurek argued that instead of creating a conditional use permit process, which would mean additional fees for businesses, why not make the amendments expressly part of the district for taprooms. Chairman Brett Taylor said he wanted an extra layer of oversight to ensure that “bad players” opening taprooms were implementing the requirements to protect children in the community.

“This is something very new and a good idea, even if it means more time and money from the applicants,” Taylor said. “Sometimes its good to put them through the ringer a little bit.”

Commissioner Marvin Hansen was also in favor of requiring a conditional use permit to make sure taprooms are doing what they are supposed to be doing before they ever have a visit from code enforcement or the police department.

“When it comes to discussing about kids around alcohol, it’s worth extra time and extra money to have a thoughtful process about it,” Hansen said. “I support the staff on this.”

Peariso motioned to amend the microbrewery district zoning with criteria to demonstrate a “family friendly” environment. The motion passed 4-1, with Commissioner Gomez casting the lone dissenting vote.

The Visalia City Council will consider the new rules for microbreweries regarding underage patrons at its Aug. 6 meeting. 

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