Vacant Northside lumber yard eyed for microbrewery

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A once-contentious piece of Northside property may see new life if a
local partnership has its way.

The partnership, so far working only under the name of "Cloister
Brewing Company", is eyeing the former Myron G. Johnson & Son Lumber
Company site at Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock Street for a
microbrewery and beer garden, and has presented plans to the Northside
Community Council to invest $500,000 to rehabilitate the existing
two-story building using green technology.

The adjacent garage area would house craft beer brewing operations,
with the product being sold both at the microbrewery and at other
locations throughout the City.

The partnership is working with an architect on general design plans
for the site. An urban plaza and gateway at the intersection ?
possibly including community gardens ? also could be part of the mix.

But to make the plan work, the project's designers have to consider
such factors as the neighboring Factory Square development, City plans
for surrounding retail outlots, and how the building and beer garden
address the Hamilton-Blue Rock intersection.

The partnership also will need the City to continue remediating the
site, which once contained not only the lumber yard but also an
automotive service station. Site environmental assessments have shown
small amounts of contaminants in the soil and groundwater.

Earlier this week, the Northside Business Association voted
unanimously to write a letter of support for the project to the City.

A contentious site

In business at Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock Street since 1946, the
Myron G. Johnson & Son Lumber Company left Northside for a larger site
in Queensgate in early 2005.

That same year, Anchor Properties proposed a 14,820-square-foot
Walgreens store on the 1.2-acre site, with a pharmacy drive-through
and surface parking for 48 cars. The Hamilton Avenue frontage would
have been set back 140 feet from the street and would have contained
37 of the parking spaces.

Residents and business owners became concerned that a new Walgreens
would take business away from its locally-owned retailers and would
damage the integrity of the Northside NBD Historic District.
Storefronts sprouted signs asking shoppers to patronize locally-owned
shops, and several hundred residents signed petitions to stop the
store from moving in.

Anchor countered that its own studies showed that Walgreens stores
built to the zero lot line underperform those built with parking in

But in 2006, after months of meetings with the Northside Business
Association, the Historic Conservation Board, and the Zoning Board of
Appeals, Walgreens and Anchor Properties pulled out of the project.

The struggle to keep the chain retailer out of the neighborhood has
led Northside to seek greater protections for its historic business
district, including a proposed formula business ordinance that would
classify chain retailers as conditional uses subject to additional
levels of public hearings and approvals.

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