Fiddlehead Brewing Co. feels growing pains

By MADELINE HUGHES

Since opening in Shelburne in 2012, Fiddlehead Brewing Company has been steadily growing. Now, seven years later, the craft brewer is pushing the limits of the space it occupies in the Shelburne Green commercial development along Route 7 and its landlord is looking to expand the beer company’s footprint in the commercial park.

Its neighbors include Fiddlehead, Douglas Sweets, Vermont Tortilla and Wild Hart Distillery, all which have seen relative success in the Vermont market as well as out of state.

“The original vision by Burlington-based architect Graham Goldsmith and Macy Mullican was for an artisan village, and if you look at it today that’s exactly what it is,” said Normand Stanislas, property manager at Shelburne Green.

Now as the businesses inside the commercial development have prospered, Shelburne Green seeks to expand the footprint of its tenant Fiddlehead Brewing Company.

The brewery originally started in 3,000 square feet adjacent to Folino’s Wood Fired Pizza. In 2015, it expanded its beer-making and canning capacity when it added another separate 10,000 square feet nearby. That addition is within the Shelburne Green complex.

Now Fiddlehead owners are seeking to expand further to what would be a total of 40,000 square feet within Shelburne Green.

No space currently in the development can accommodate Fiddlehead’s needs. The property owners are seeking developing permits for a design that would incorporate Fiddlehead’s current space and add to it to create a 40,000 square-foot brewery that would “anchor” the entire development, Stanislas explained.

The brewery would like the expansion to include a café open between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m..

When the development first received permits in 2014, buildings were capped at 20,000 square-feet, and Fiddlehead was approved to run a café between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. So far, the brewer has only run a tasting room, not a full café with food service.

“We are very excited to say that the original intent of Shelburne Green South as an artisan village is continuing. And a majority of tenants have experienced tremendous growth at this time,” Stanislas said. “It’s been an adventure. Some have asked to increase their square footages. In Vermont, in this economy, this is a great thing to see.

We are seeking the change to café hours because it would economically be hard to make it  support itself with food service stopping at 6 p.m.,” Stanislas said.

The development is in its second stage of municipal regulatory review, also known as the preliminary plan review. The Shelburne Development Review Board approved the initial sketch plan in April 2018. The application returned to the board in September when board members decided to conduct a partial review.

“The DRB’s rules and procedures allow for a partial stage review to test the validity of something or unpack something complicated,” said Ravi Venkataraman, the town staff  coordinator for the review board.

Put to the test

As the board moves along its review of the Fiddlehead expansion, a key – and complicated – question whether the Shelburne Green development passes the Stowe Club Highlands test.

This refers to a 2013 project in Stowe where a luxury home development sought to expand. When the developers first applied for permits, they did not foresee the growth the project would experience over time. They later asked the town to reevaluate the conditions of the project’s approval.

The case went to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled in Stowe Highlands’ favor.

Since then, the precedent has been used in considering other developments in Vermont. Shelburne Green cited the case in asking for extended café hours with the proposed expansion of Fiddlehead’s Shelburne brewery. Permits for the brewery space in Shelburne Green were approved in 2014, about a year before Fiddlehead owners signed a lease for the space.

Stanislas recalled working with Fiddlehead owner Matt Cohen on that lease.

“Quite frankly, at the time he was scared 10,000 square feet was too much,” he said. “There was no way to foresee the growth at that time, which is a great problem to have on Matt’s part.”

Cohen did not respond for a comment about his business. In October, the review board ruled 4-3 in a partial decision, saying Shelburne Green also meets the Stowe case test. That came against advice from the town attorney and zoning staff.

That’s when the neighboring homeowners who live to the west of Shelburne Green filed a lawsuit against the decision in Vermont Environmental Court.

“There is a finality of permits not to alter or change a development once permitted that often people rely upon,” said attorney Brooke Dingledine, from the Barre law firm Valsangiacomo, Detora and McQuesten. She is representing the Gables Homeowners Association, LLC.

Neighbors are concerned about the potential café hours because noise travels in the area. The proposed café would be 150 feet away from the residential area.

“The main thing we are concerned about is the café that is proposed, which doesn’t fit with previous decisions by the DRB,” said Anne Powell, president of the Gables board. “We are all for the expansion – that’s good for Shelburne. It’s the idea of adding on the café.”

The homeowners association previously talked with the developers about potential noises, odors and traffic that could come from a café on the site. The association signed an agreement with Shelburne Green in 2014 when the a café was first envisioned for the brewery.

“There were certain agreements made in 2014,” Powell said. “This is why we are being cautious about making another agreement with them.”

Moving forward

The town filed a motion requesting to dismiss the decision because it was only a partial-stage review. The court ruled in the town’s favor. The Gables homeowners can revisit the issue later in the process.

“The town put us in the position of having to appeal,” Dingledine said. “Now this decision is in play, so when the case is over, they can appeal the issue.”

Both sides said they are in discussions to resolve issues outside of court.

Shelburne Green’s application for Fiddlehead’s expansion and café is scheduled to be heard by the Development Review Board Feb. 6.

In addition, Shelburne Green expects it will file more applications for future development as it continues to develop four more buildings for tenants separate from Fiddlehead.

“The growth of Fiddlehead and the economic necessity of extended café hours were unforeseeable at the time of original application,” Stanislas said.

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