The South Portland Planning Board approved Fore River Brewing Company to open a tasting room at the facility on 35 Park Ave. Public comments showed support of the company and the work it’s done to support South Portland but some residents had concerns about increased traffic and parking. Catherine Bart photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board, on Aug. 26, approved Fore River Brewing Company’s proposal to open a tasting room at the business’s 35 Park Ave location.

The brewery has a tasting room at its Huntress Avenue location, but due to the impacts of COVID-19, Fore River is seeing if adding a tasting room, which would accommodate 48 patrons, would work in the Park Avenue location, said Donna Larson of Sebago Technics, who represented the company.

Planning Director Milan Nevajda said that the area is a non-residential growth land use designation. The applicant of the proposal and staff have discussed adding a pathway or trail, not a full-blown sidewalk, but no set design has been created.

“Part of this is also we’re dealing with an unprecedented scenario with the pandemic and it’s really difficult for businesses like this to survive, and so to some degree this is a little speculative on their end,” he said. “To allow them to see how the tasting room goes for now until June 1 will give them a window of whether this will be a viable feature of their business.”

John LeGassey, one of Fore River Brewing Company’s owners, said that the brewery has been working hard before and through the pandemic.

“This has been a very stressful last few months,” LeGassey said. “Our industry, the brewing industry, is one of the strongest in Maine for tourism and tax revenue and has seen a massive loss in revenue. We’re going to see a lot of breweries drop off, a lot of them lose their jobs.”

The approach to add a tasting room isn’t uncommon for the industry, Nevajda said.

“A brewery’s modern understanding is more and more evolving into a multi-faceted feature and so this seemed like a natural extension of the type of use and pretty common, maybe not in South Portland, but a pretty common approach these days to how these types of businesses operate,” Nevajda said.

Matt Albrech, of 64 Broadway, said he was the president of the South Portland Firefighters Union, although wasn’t speaking on behalf of that organization. He described Fore River Brewing Company as a small, philanthropic business that truly cares about South Portland.

The company has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the union’s annual fundraisers, he added.

School Board Chair Matthew Perkins, who was also not speaking on behalf of the board, said that he fully supported the addition. The Huntress Avenue location has proven to be a family-friendly place.

“The Fore River team have been exemplary members of our community since their inception in 2015,” Perkins said. “In fact they were awarded South Portland Small Business of the Year in 2016. Their previous tasting room on Huntress Avenue has always been a welcoming environment where friends and neighbors can gather to enjoy a pint while catching up with one another.”

Bud Ellis,  a Mt. Vernon Street resident, said that he supported the addition of the tasting room.

“I just want to point out that their business basically occurs into the afternoon into the evening,” Ellis said. “It doesn’t last all night long. It’s not a terribly noisy, disruptive business by any stretch of the imaginations.”

Some residents, however, had concerns about the traffic or parking problems the tasting room may cause.

Traffic will become more challenging, said Councilor April Carrichio, who said she was not representing the city council in her comments.

“When the building went up it changed the face of that neighborhood in an imposing way,” Carrichio said. “Those roads are constantly traveled by 18-wheelers.”

Although Steve Gervais, of 44 Park Ave, said he has no objection to the tasting room, he was worried about more vehicles parking on the street than currently.

John Wibby of Cash Street suggested that the company come back after a master plan has been created.

Before the final vote, the board approved an amendment that added the condition, “The applicant shall establish a pedestrian marker at the center line of the Park Avenue roadway at the crossing from 35 Park Ave. to off-site parking during the hours of operation for the tasting room, except in inclement weather.”

Planning Board member Linda Boudreau, representing District 1, said that even with the concerns, the applicant met all ordinances.

“A great business always makes for a really good neighbor,” board member Shahida Keen, of District 2, said. “I think it’s challenging for residential neighbors when the face of the neighborhood changes in a way they hadn’t necessarily anticipated.”

The final vote was 5-0 in favor.

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