Fiddlehead Brewing expansion approved

Photo by Lisa Scagliotti
Fiddlehead Brewing Co. owner Matt Cohen says the brewery at Shelburne Green is overdue for an expansion that will allow the company to increase production and grow its markets. The company expects to produce 30,000 barrels of craft beer this year and quadruple its production area soon.

LISA SCAGLIOTTI
Correspondent

After developers of Shelburne Green business park made impassioned pleas at a public hearing last week, the development review board issued a decision Monday that paves the way for Fiddlehead Brewing Co. to expand its operation in Shelburne.

The board ruled on the request that started in late 2017 when Shelburne Green asked to amend its 2014 permits in order to enlarge the main brewery to 40,000 square feet and to extend the hours of operation for a future café into the evening.

The request has taken a zig-zag course through the review process that involved a stop in state court, an ethics complaint that sidelined the board chair from the deliberations and negotiations with residents of a nearby neighborhood.

By last week’s final hearing on the application, the project’s developer and architect, its lawyer and manager offered their blunt assessment of what might happen next.

“We’re going to lose this tenant,” said developer Graham Goldsmith. “He’s already leased 6,000 square- feet in Williston. … The guy can’t make any more beer.”

Goldsmith explained that Fiddlehead, which opened its craft brewing operation at Shelburne Green in 2015, has been successful, growing each year to the point where it can no longer grow in its existing facilities at the park.

The brewery’s main building is about 10,000 square feet with two additional spaces for offices, storage, a smaller brewing space and a tasting room, Cohen said in an interview this week. He confirmed that the company recently signed a five-year lease on space in Williston for storage.

The board last week wrestled with how much detail it needed to consider in making its decision. The expansion request raised no objections from town staff, board members or the public at the hearing.

The sticking point was the café. In earlier permits for the commercial park, a 2,500 square-foot food operation was allowed with hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. It was envisioned as a place for people who work at the various businesses and people visiting the park.

Shelburne Green officials asked that the hours be extended to 9 p.m. and that the café be located in the expanded brewery facility.

They explained that it would allow for Fiddlehead to offer the public a chance to sample the beers made on site along with a light fare menu where customers would order from a counter and sit at tables.

“No waitresses or waiters,” Goldsmith said.

Cohen later explained how serving the public fits the business. He said the café would be “family-friendly” and “all-ages,” adding that the expanded facility will also include an observation walkway for people to tour the brewery.

The experience is what consumers have come to expect of Vermont manufacturers of all types, he said. “Go next door and you can watch them make teddy bears,” he said pointing toward the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory just down Route 7 from the brewery.

Throughout the permit process, residents of the Gables were vocal in their concerns about increased activity at the development such as traffic and noise the café might bring, particularly if it had events with music and the public.

“The town lacks the authority to keep it from being a restaurant,” said Clark Hinsdale, whose mother is a resident of the Gables.

Fiddlehead has committed to considering no more than four special events per year with an ending time of 7 p.m. and to inform town officials of those plans, Cohen said.

With the approval in hand, Cohen said he’s looking forward to construction starting this fall to expand the brewery in order to ramp up production as the company looks to enter the New Hampshire market.

The expansion comes as the company also completes the addition of a new $1 million wastewater treatment system that will also help power the brewery’s boiler. Fiddlehead’s future, Cohen said, is to continue to grow in Shelburne.

“We want to be a good neighbor,” he said.

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