The Visalia City Council voted at its August 15 meeting to approve a special zone in east downtown for micro-breweries and micro-wineries. The zone creates a business friendly atmosphere for such enterprises in East Visalia.
The new zone eliminates many of the restrictions imposed on establishments serving alcohol. The zone eliminates the need for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) unless such a business sets up shop 200 feet from an existing church or children’s facility. The new zone also eliminates the requirement to offer food. Breweries and wineries will further be able to sell their craft beers and specialty wines right at the establishment where they are made. Minors are also allowed on the premise as their parents shop or do a tasting.
Until recently, micro-breweries and -wineries were only allowed in the city’s service/commercial zones.
Gail Zurick, CEO of the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, said that just starting the conversation in January to create a special zone has spurred major investment in East Downtown. JR Shannon, local developer and business owner, said, “I’m excited to see the support for the new East Main Street brewery district. This change gives Visalia the opportunity to continue its downtown scene which Visalia is known. East Main brings a whole different feel with different styles of architecture but still captures the downtown vibe.”
Council member Bob Link said that one of the motivations of the new zoning is to lower vacancy rates in this section of town and will result in the renovation of older buildings. The council also saw this as a way to encourage local entrepreneurship and promote tourism in Visalia.
“Craft beers brewed by micro-breweries are a burgeoning business model,” said Paul Scheibel, Principal Planner for the city of Visalia.
Micro-distilleries, which make craft whiskey and other hard alcohol are not yet permitted but are a future goal. Zurick said just allowing a new zone for the breweries was revolutionary for Visalia, so the potential businesses want to be good neighbors and let the city get used to their presence.
East Main Street has been a challenge in terms of economic development, and the Chamber of Commerce and city council expect the new ordinance to change that. The zone is bounded by Santa Fe Street to the west, Murray Street to the north, Ben Maddox to the east, and Mineral King to the south.
The final vote was 3- 3 with Mayor Steve Nelsen and Council member Greg Collins voting no. Both Nelsen and Collins are enthusiastic about the new zone but did not approve of the requirement of a CUP if the brewery is close to a church or children’s facility.