Starving Artist Brewing to appeal to zoning board

March 8, 2019

Starving Artist Brewing needs to seek approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals before plans to expand the business by serving pints in an outdoor beer garden can be approved by the Mason County Planning Commission, and Thomas is not wasting any time in getting his revised plan together.

“We filed the application with the Zoning Board of Appeals, this morning, and we’re going to go that route,” Thomas told the Daily News on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Thomas discussed a proposal with planning commissioners that would rezone Starving Artist as a microbrewery agribusiness, include seating and parking for 25 people and the ability to serve up to 2 pints of craft beer to patrons.

Planning commissioners told Thomas that his plan failed to meet three requirements for agribusiness zoning, and postponed their decision.

Only the ZBA can grant a landowner permission to not meet county zoning standards, and Thomas said he plans to have a proposal ready by the board’s April 3 meeting.

Mason County Planning and Zoning Director Brady Selner told commissioners that there’s a reason Thomas’s property does not meet the 10-acre minimum for microbreweries or the onsite farming requirement stipulated by the current zoning ordinance.

“This is a unique situation. Back in 2014, Andy applied for a home-based business. Onsite activities were limited to production … and all sales were excluded to outside,” Selner said. “Now, he’s seeking to grow, acquiring a new pole building for future production and seeking permission to apply to serve on the premises and have regular hours of operation.

“There are a few standards that he doesn’t meet, but back when he was approved as a home-based business, those standards didn’t exist.”

Thomas said he understood the planning commission’s decision, adding that he felt the meeting with the planning commissioners was productive.

“I felt that it was, for the most part, really positive and we completely understand that there’s rules for a reason and we want to follow them,” Thomas said. “(The commission) seemed more or less supportive of (the expansion plan) — it’s just that their hands are tied. They’re here to protect everybody, and we want to follow the rules.”

Commissioners, including Janet Andersen and Tom Hopper, said they supported the idea, but noted that it was not in their power to approve a special land use request that did not meet the requirements of the county’s zoning ordinance.

Several members of the public attended the meeting to show support, including neighbors and people who have worked with Starving Artist.

Ross Field of Field Associates submitted a letter to Selner expressing his support for the planned expansion.

“I am very familiar with economy and land uses in Mason County. Andy is a brewer of exceptional products … and (Starving Artist is) considered by many to be one of the best breweries in the state,” Field said. “It’s a shining example of American entrepreneurship.”

He added that allowing the business to grow would be a boon for tourism in the area as well, bringing more people to the area and increasing interest in Mason County businesses and restaurants.

Thomas told the Daily News that stimulating economic growth for the whole community is a major goal of his.

“We’re a craft beer destination, and when people are done here, we’ll send them to Ludington Bay, we’ll send them to Jamesport, to The Mitten — to all those great downtown Ludington businesses.”

Tom Alway, Amber Township trustee, also encouraged commissioners to consider the proposal, expressing support both personally and on behalf of the township.

“The Amber Township board is very much in support of any business in our township, and we see this as an opportunity … for further growth,” Alway said. “I’m one of the hop growers who supplies to Andy from time to time. I appreciate that he’s trying to grow his business, which helps us grow our business.”

Brian Josefowicz, who co-owns Sportsman’s Irish Pub, Barley & Rye and The Mitten with wife Megan, said he sells Starving Artist craft beers and will continue to do so.

“I just wanted to state that we’re totally in support of this,” Josefowicz said. “People will go to his shop, talk to him directly and move on to other breweries and other bars.

“I’m in full support of it, we sell his product and I’d like to see him continue to grow.”

At least one resident in attendance had misgivings about the expansion.

David Hackert, Thomas’ neighbor, said though he doesn’t have any qualms with how the business has operated thus far, he is worried that too much growth too soon could have a negative impact.

“I’m concerned about all the strange people coming and going,” he said. “Eventually you’re going to have a Budweiser. I hate to say it, but I have a bad feeling about it. I’d like to give him a year’s chance to see how it works.”

Hackert suggested that the commission allow Thomas to expand for a trial period.

Thomas told the Daily News that he took Hackert’s concerns seriously, and noted that, if the expansion is approved, he would endeavor to make sure a 2-pint limit was enforced. He also said he’s been working with the Mason County Sheriff’s Office to coordinate how increased traffic will be monitored.

“They’re valid concerns. If a neighbor was doing something that I didn’t approve of, I’d be concerned as well,” Thomas said. “It goes with the territory when you’re serving alcohol in a rural area … but no one will be over-served on our watch.

“That’s not what we do here. And we hope to be able to do this with little to no impact on the surrounding area.”

Hopper asked if there were any plans to increase capacity to more than 25 people.

“If we were starting to get too many people showing up, we’d begin looking at an offsite location,” Thomas said. “This is our home … we want to maintain a measure of peace.”

Thomas said he will work with Selner and make a proposal to the ZBA on April 3. The ZBA will review the standards noted by the planning commission, and if variances are granted, he will have approval to not follow the literal requirements of the zoning ordinance.

At that point, Thomas will be able to return to the planning commission to seek the special land use permit.

“I’ve got a lot of work and research to do to get ready for the ZBA on April 3, but I feel pretty confident that we can convince the board of appeals that this would fall under a practical variance,” Thomas said. “I do believe a decision will be made (on that day).”

Thomas’ plans include setting up a small outdoor beer garden on his property with picnic tables and seating for no more than 25 people, added production in a recently purchased pole barn on the property and parking for customers.

Starving Artist also plans to have regular hours of operation for the first time. The hours would be noon to 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the summer; noon to 7 Friday and Saturday in the winter; and an option to open on Sundays for special occasions and holidays.