Ventura moved one step closer to its first taste of locally brewed beer when the City Council voted this week to lift a restriction on a proposed micro-brewery and pub for the downtown area.
Robert Shields, a Ventura upholsterer with 10 years of home-brewing experience, had appealed a Planning Commission requirement that he dedicate a 9-foot-wide strip of land at the site for future street expansion.
By a 5-1 vote, the council agreed to drop the requirement, but upheld two other conditions that Shields had appealed, including the striping of an adjacent parking lot and the repair of chipped sidewalks along the property's boundaries of Ventura Avenue and Santa Clara Street.
Shields, who would be allowed to brew a daily maximum of 330 gallons of beer at the 1,786-square-foot site, had said that the owner of the property he leases was unwilling to give up the 9-foot right of way.
While pleased that the council had removed the hurdle, Shields expressed dismay that such a project would not be more speedily endorsed by city officials.
Proposed more than two years ago, the micro-brewery fits the city's own recommendations for the kinds of businesses needed to attract tourists and revitalize downtown Ventura, he said.
Faces Multiple Hurdles
In that time, however, Shields said there have been numerous problems locating a site for the project, and resistance from Ventura police, who have opposed placing an alcohol-related business in the area.
"I don't think that there's been any direct assault on what I'm trying to do, but I think the city could look at it and decide whether it's a benefit to Ventura," said Shields, who owns the adjoining Curly's Auto Upholstery. "If they decide it is a benefit to Ventura, maybe there could have been a way to ease some of the things we've gone through."
Although city officials said they support the proposal, they concede that it has run into a few snags because of its location in a corner of the Strong Steel building, which falls within Ventura's Downtown Redevelopment Area.
For several years, the city has hoped to raze the structure, along with a building on the adjoining eastern block, and seek bids to construct a condominium and office complex, said Community Development Director Everett Millais.
Shields was permitted to proceed with his micro-brewery and pub proposal, Millais said, because there are no definite plans for the redevelopment project.
"The reality is that redevelopment is a very long process," Millais said. "We don't want to use it as a negative to discourage someone from doing something that could have very positive results. . . . It would be perceived as unfair to turn him down based on things that may not come to pass."
Shields, who would receive relocation compensation if the site were someday redeveloped, said that his hope is to make the micro-brewery such a success that the city would have to build around it.
"Sure, it's a huge concern," he said. "I'm gambling everything I got on that fact that it's going to work so well nobody's going to want it to leave."