The man behind a future beer garden under construction on South Green Street believes the Sonora City Council’s lingering concerns about access to a storm drain manhole on his property won’t delay the business from opening in April next year.
Doug Kennedy, the developer, wants to provide the city with unfettered access to an existing manhole on his property rather than construct a new one a few feet away in a city-owned parking lot, but the council voted 3-1 Monday night to delay a decision on the agreement until early next month after both sides hammer out the fine details.
“We have enormous festivities planned and I’m confident we’ll work through this with the city and meet our deadlines,” Kennedy said in an interview with The Union Democrat after the meeting.
Kennedy said his Green Dog Beer Co. at 208 S. Green St. is scheduled to open on April 20, followed by a grand-opening celebration over the weekend of the Mother Lode Round-Up on May 12 and 13. The business will include a beer garden, retail store and renovated entertainment venue that formerly housed Stage 3 Theatre Co.
On Monday, the council considered a request from Kennedy to change the terms of an agreement it had reached with him and formally approved on Sept. 18.
The original agreement would require Kennedy to construct a new manhole and make nearly $100,000 worth of improvements to the city-owned parking lot in exchange for the city granting an easement needed to provide water, sewer, propane and electricity to his project.
Kennedy’s development team later determined that constructing the manhole could threaten the integrity of the storm drain that was constructed in the late-1800s.
A letter attached to the council’s meeting documents signed by a member of Kennedy’s team stated the manhole construction was also expected to cost about $30,000 more than estimated, but he said he’s already invested $3 million in the project and money wasn’t the main factor for wanting the change.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about doing the right thing,” Kennedy said. “I’m not trying to shove anything down the city’s throat.”
For the better part of two centuries, the drain patched together by rock and iron doors from a former mine shaft has served a large section of the downtown area along South Washington Street from Church Street south to Restano Way and east to Barretta Street.
Water captured in the drain eventually makes its way to Sonora Creek off Stockton Road.
There have been several major collapses in the drain over the past 20-plus years, including one during a flood in May 1996 that caused water to back up into several businesses on the 200 block of South Washington Street.
Jerry Fuccillo, who has served as city’s main engineer for more than 30 years, referred to it several times as the city’s “main drain” and urged the council to reject Kennedy’s requested change and require the construction of a new manhole.
“This should be considered a benefit to the beer garden in the event of a blockage to the city’s main drain,” Fuccillo said. “Without access to the overflow, there could be serious flooding to the inside of the building as well as the foundation.”
Fuccillo noted that developers of what’s now the Bank of Stockton in 1973 replaced the section of the drain underneath that building, though City Administrator Tim Miller said the city cannot legally require Kennedy to replace an “existing deficiency.”
Bill Seldon, who recently retired after more than 20 years as the city’s public works supervisor, handed out pictures to the council of the last time he and his crew cleaned out a major collapse in the drain in 2003.
Seldon said he worked out the original compromise with Kennedy prior to his retirement that required the construction of a new manhole.
The existing manhole, which is located in what will essentially be the central area of the open-air beer garden, was placed there when Stage 3 Theatre Co. was still using the facility for building sets and provided enough room for a backhoe and dump truck required to haul out heavy rock.
If a major collapse in the system were to occur without other access, Seldon said the work would likely shut down the beer garden for weeks. Kennedy has offered to provide a hoist if the city needed access to the drain from the manhole, but Seldon pointed to one of his pictures that showed a truck hauling a bed filled with heavy rocks.
“That’s just one truckload out of four that came out of there,” Seldon said. “You don’t just do that with a little hoist, you need everything you can get your hands on.”
Robert Boyer, the contractor constructing the beer garden, said he didn’t believe where the manhole was located mattered much because the drain is so narrow that any major collapse would require them to dig it out from the top down.
Boyer held his hands about a foot apart to indicate how narrow the passage was in some parts.
“You can’t go in an access hole there and expect to pull out rock,” Boyer said. “It’s nice to have because you can run a camera through, but you can’t run employees in there to fix it .. None of us contractors wanted ot have the liability of putting a hole in the ground and then having somebody get in there to fix it.”
Reuben Chirnside, the engineer and architect of the project, said the fact that the 19th-century storm drain ran underneath the property was something they were concerned about from the beginning and designed the support for the beer garden’s mezzanine in such a way that it wouldn’t directly rest on top of it.
Chirnside said the sidewall of the beer garden facing the city’s Coffill parking lot will have an 8-foot-tall, 14-foot-wide roll-up door for access, as well as 10 to 20 feet of space to work inside.
Councilman Matt Hawkins praised the project’s development team for considering the storm drain while designing the building and said he didn’t see a major issue with a lack of outside manhole access.
“Lots of buildings have access inside the building and very rarely does anyone access it,” Hawkins said. “I just don’t see the big deal.”
However, several city residents at the meeting spoke in favor of the council heeding the advice of their longtime employees and requiring the construction of a new manhole, including David Morgan, Charles Segerstrom and Larry Coombes.
The council ultimately directed the city attorney to work out a contract that includes specific requirements for providing unfettered access to the existing manhole at all times, which will likely be considered for approval at a meeting on Dec. 4.
Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Garaventa cast the lone dissenting vote because he wanted to keep the original agreement intact and add a provision that would free Kennedy of any liability if the storm drain failed during construction of a new manhole.
“It gives us a better access down the line,” Garaventa said of the original agreement.
Mayor Connie Williams recused herself before the hearing started because she serves as chairwoman of the Stage 3 Theatre Co. Board of Directors. The group recently announced it was suspending productions until it could find a new theater due to uncertainty over when Kennedy’s project would be completed.
Hawkins also indicated to city staff he would like to see an item on a future agenda to look at ways for funding a major replacement of the 1800s-era storm drain.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.