A Branford family hopes to be brewing and serving its Stony Creek beer in a new facility along the Branford River by late fall.
The Crowley family received unanimous approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) to build a brewery and tasting facility along Indian Neck Avenue, near the upscale Anchor Reef condominiums, in the heart of Branford.
“Our family is all about beer,” Ed Crowley Sr. told a crowd of about three dozen people at Thursday’s P&Z meeting. Crowley, who has almost 40 years in the beer industry, introduced his son, Ed Crowley Jr., who has been in the business about 10 years. “We’ve done it with class, and we’ve done it with integrity,” he said.
Crowley’s wife, Peggy, founded Stony Creek Beer about three years ago, along with Manuel Rodriguez, manager of the company. The beer is currently being brewed at the Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield. The family wants to build a local facility. “We’ve looked at different sites in Branford … and then this site came along,” Crowley said. The site is part of the Anchor Reef Planned Development District, but Crowley asked the P&Z to subdivide two parcels from the original plan. Here is another view of the brewery.
He envisions the Stony Creek Brewery as a destination where people will come for a brewery tour and beer tasting, and then relax or walk to nearby restaurants or the Town Center, which is less than a half mile away. Beer tastings would typically be held on weekends, along with entertainment by an acoustic guitarist or piano player.
In addition to the brewery, the two-story building will house a tasting room, decks on both the first and second floors, and a celebration room that could be used for banquets or meetings.
Crowley (pictured) said people often ask why there won’t be a restaurant at the site. He tells them he doesn’t want to compete with the numerous restaurants in town. “We have so many great restaurants in Branford,” he said. “We are not restaurant people; we are beer people.”
He said many restaurants are already selling Stony Creek Beer, and he talked with several restaurateurs about offering to-go orders so people can enjoy a lunch or dinner while sipping beer at the brewery. “This will have a brew-pub element to it,” he said.
Crowley recently retired after serving as president of Dichello Distributors Inc. in Orange, for 22 years. He said the increasing popularity of craft beer encouraged the family to move ahead with their plans to own and operate a brewery. Craft beers are typically brewed in small batches at independently-owned facilities.
“This is going to be a homegrown brewery,” Crowley said, noting that the project’s engineering, architectural and legal firms are all Branford entities.
“We’re trying to keep Branford businesses busy, especially during the building period,” he said, adding he plans to employ about 12 to 25 local people once the facility is built.
State Rep. Lonnie Reed, (D-Branford), a resident of the nearby Anchor Reef condominiums, voiced her support during the public hearing.
“I am enthusiastically supporting this project. I’m so excited this is finally happening,” she said. Reed described the Crowley family as “amazing, successful entrepreneurs. They want to add to the spirit of the town.”
The brewery will be built next to the boat storage facility, which is adjacent to the Anchor Reef condominiums. The site is part of the sprawling property owned by the former Malleable Iron Fittings (MIF), which closed in 1971 after serving as the town’s largest manufacturer for decades.
“This will turn an eyesore into a good destination,” Reed said, noting its proximity to the Shoreline East train station and the Town Center.
The public hearing and presentation lasted about two hours, with about 15 minutes worth of comments from the public. Some were supportive, others were concerned about how the brewery might affect the quality of life for those living nearby. Some residents expressed concerns about flooding in the area, which typically happens after heavy rains.
John Leonard, of the Economic Development Commission and a member of Representative Town Meeting, called the project “a near perfect plan” that will provide jobs for Branford residents.
“Everybody’s been very supportive,” Crowley later told the Eagle, adding that he is eager to get started. “It’s a prime location.”
The Eagle asked Crowley why he didn’t chose a site in Stony Creek, where the brew got its name. Crowley said the lack of available space and parking woes in the tiny village were prohibitive, and that there are no municipal sewer lines.
HISTORY OF THE SITE
Attorney David Gibson (pictured to right talking with P&Z)) gave an overview of the project and discussed the history of the site, which is part of a Planned Development District that was approved by the P&Z in 2001. The original master plan called for three new condominiums, a renovated condominium building, a hotel, and two office buildings. Since then, one new condominium and a club house has been built, and a factory building was renovated into 14 residential units.
In 2012, the P&Z approved a revised master plan which included the two additional upscale condo buildings and offices, but eliminated the hotel. The site is owned by Anchor Reef Club of Branford LLC. Click here to read that story.
On Thursday night, Gibson asked the P&Z to approve a modification to the master plan that would allow the brewery to be built where an office building had been slated.
Jim Pretti of Criscuolo Engineering in Branford said the facility will be 30,000 square-feet and will have 152 parking spaces. The plans also call for covered bike racks for 48 bikes, and two charging stations for electric cars.
He said the portion of the property across the roadway, where another office building was previously slated, will serve as a detention pond for drainage, and will provide reserve space for 35 additional parking spaces if needed. He said a pump station will be built on the site to assist with drainage.
Pretti said there will be no increase in stormwater runoff, and there will be some reduction in water draining to lower areas. A service drive will be used for deliveries and will be available to the town as an emergency crossover road in case Indian Neck Avenue floods.
Branford architect Joe Sepot (pictured)discussed the site’s location. “It’s a very unique site and very difficult to work with,” he said. Because of the proximity to the river, the building will be elevated. “The whole building is designed on piles,” he said, which raises it 5 ½ feet above ground level. “The free-flow of water would go underneath the building” in the event of flooding, he said.
Sepot displayed renderings of the proposed brewery, with the rear decks and tasting room facing the Branford River. There will be a gazebo and covered walkway to the front of the building.
Results of a traffic study were presented by David Spear of DLS Traffic Engineering Services, who said traffic from the site would cause no significant negative impact to safety or traffic operations.
The project was approved by both the Town Center Revitalization and Review Board, and Branford’s Economic Development Commission.
Town Planner Jose Giner presented the four-page staff report, noting that the brewery would be half the size of the previously proposed office buildings which totaled 60,000 square-feet. The report includes about a dozen conditions that must be met by the developers, including approval by the East Shore District Health Department.
The P&Z commission unanimously approved the modification to the master plan, the subdivision request, and the site plan and coastal area management plan. Only four members were in attendance: chairman Ellsworth McGuigan, Charles Andres, Joseph Vaiuso, and John Lust, who is an alternate. Stephen Duhamel was absent, and long-time member Phil Fischer recently retired. Alternates Marcia Palluzzi and Joseph Chadwick were also absent.