A Sonora native who wants to open a microbrewery in the downtown area says he came away from a public meeting Tuesday night hopeful about the chances of his plans moving forward.
It took about 10 minutes for the city’s Planning Commission to vote 3-0 in favor of recommending that the City Council approve an amendment to existing zoning laws that would allow for such businesses in nonresidential areas.
“I can’t think of anything that could be better,” Commissioner John Richardson said of the proposal. “A lot of towns have them, and I think it’s a great idea.”
Commissioner Kevin Anderson had to recuse himself because he said he knows the proposed owner of the microbrewery, Thomas Silva, 35, while Commissioner Ron Jensen was unable to attend Tuesday night.
The council will have to approve introducing the change to zoning laws at a public meeting on Dec. 3, and then ratify that decision at a meeting on Dec. 17 under the city’s process for amendments to existing ordinances.
There will also be a public hearing at the commission’s next meeting on Dec. 10 to consider approving a use permit for the project, which won’t require subsequent approval by the council.
The commission was scheduled to consider both requests concurrently Tuesday night, but it was advised by City Attorney Douglas White to consider the permit at its next meeting in order for the council to first consider the amendment.
Silva, who also owns the business Type One Tree Service, said after the public hearing that the additional step would not impact his plans.
“It’s all going to take time anyway,” he said. “I respect the process.”
The plans are for the microbrewery to be added to the existing Lighthouse Deli restaurant at 28 S. Washington St., which Silva recently purchased from Brian Farmer.
Silva confirmed when asked by Commissioner Gary Anderson that he will need to take over the space at the corner occupied by attorneys that was previously used as a dining room for the restaurant.
The idea came to Silva from a recent trip he took to Bend, Oregon, which he said has microbreweries that attract commerce.
“This is something I’m excited about, passionate about, and I think it would be good for our community,” he told the commission during the public hearing.
One other man in favor of the project spoke at the meeting because he said the downtown area is lacking places to eat breakfast. Silva plans to expand the hours of the Lighthouse Deli to begin serving breakfast and be open on weekends.
Commissioner Chris Garnin, who serves as chairman, drew some laughter when he joked that it had been awhile since he had a microbrew for breakfast.
“It’s a good way to start your day off,” Richardson chimed in.
Paula Daneluk, the city’s planning consultant, explained that the change in zoning law would allow for such businesses that brew up to 15,000 barrels of beer per year and wouldn’t allow for any large-scale breweries.
The amendment would require anyone proposing to open a microbrewery to obtain a use permit, which would give the commission the ability to consider the location of each on a case-by-case basis.
Silva has not revealed a timeline for completion of his project while awaiting the necessary approvals.
Later in the meeting, the commission voted 4-0 to approve a site plan for a Dairy Queen on Pesce Way proposed by Sonora couple Andy Singh and Navneet Bhatia, owners of the ARCO ampm gas station and convenience store next to where the fast-food restaurant would be located.
Singh has said the approval will allow construction to begin sometime early next year as weather permits in hopes of opening by sometime in spring or summer.
Plans to develop one or more fast-food businesses on the site have been in the works since the couple purchased it more than two years ago. The site was previously home to automobile dealerships, including Sonora Motors, but has sat vacant for decades.
Neighbors in the residential area directly west of the site attended previous meetings to speak against the project, in part because one of the entrances to the business would be via Pesce Way.
Another entrance will be through the existing gas-station driveway, which was done in hopes of keeping as much traffic as possible off the largely residential street. An entrance off Highway 49 was not possible under Caltrans’ modern standards.
Daneluk said 32 parking spaces, including a lot for employees only, were required by the city to hopefully keep people from parking along Pesce Way. She noted that people who lived within 300 feet of the project were sent notices in advance of Tuesday’s hearing and none submitted comments.
Singh said the restaurant’s hours of operations are planned to be from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., give or take an hour, but no later than midnight. The adjacent gas station, convenience store, and a car wash in the area are all open 24 hours a day.
Gerald Abbott, who lives close to the project on Steffen Lane, said the reason none of the neighbors spoke up prior to the meeting was because no one received a notice. He said he heard about the meeting through an article in The Union Democrat.
Abbott accused the proceeding of being illegal due to the lack of notification.
Daneluk responded that notices were sent to property owners within 300 feet of the project 10 days in advance of the hearing prior to the meeting as required by law. She said a legal notice was also published in The Union Democrat, and the meeting agenda was posted on a bulletin board outside of City Hall as required as well.
Garnin said he understood the concerns from the nearby residents, but the project followed all of the city’s requirements.
“I think this was done with a sensitivity to the neighbors as much as could be done,” he said.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.