by Bethany M. Dunbar
copyright the Chronicle 1-23-2013
GREENSBORO — Hill Farmstead Brewery was approved for a planning and zoning conditional use permit after a hearing on Wednesday, January 16.
The application is to add some room for storage, to bring equipment and supplies that are currently outside or stored in Hardwick under a roof at the brewery, and to open a separate retail area. Currently there is a small bar and retail area in part of the brewery — essentially a garage.
The hearing was run by Zoning Board Chairman Jane Woodruff, who asked brewery owner Shaun Hill to present some background and outline his plans.
Mr. Hill plans to add on to the existing brewery in two phases, probably over two years.
Hill Farmstead Brewery has been in business for three years and has attracted attention from beer lovers all around the country and internationally. It is rated as one of the top five microbreweries in the world by a website called Rate Beer.
The room was packed with people at Wednesday’s hearing, almost all of whom had come to support the application.
One set of neighbors said they did not like the traffic on the back road where the brewery is situated, and wish the business did not include selling beer directly to the public.
Mary McGrath said she and her husband worked with Mr. Hill and some of the other neighbors to put conservation easements on their land and create a wildlife corridor between the Barr Hill Nature Preserve and Long Pond. She said the brewery with retail traffic seems out of character.
“We now feel somewhat ambushed by Shaun’s proposal,” she said. She said she likes and respects Mr. Hill, but doesn’t like the plan.
“This is not a farming nor a forest enterprise,” she said.
Clive Gray asked how many acres of the property had been conserved. Mr. Hill said 95 acres out of 99 acres were conserved, but he kept five acres out because he had always planned to build a brewery. He said the Vermont Land Trust has approved his expansion plan.
He told the members of the zoning board and planning commission he wanted to start a brewery as a way to make a life and a business for himself in the town where he grew up. He is the eighth generation of Hills to live on his farm.
“I had a sense of place. I knew I wanted to spend my life in Greensboro,” he said. He added that the retail side of the business is critical to be able to make a living and employ people. He employs three people, and expects to add one more.
“Right now all of our glass and all of our kegs are kept outside in the snow and in the rain,” he said.
He said a better retail space, storage, and packing area will make the whole process more efficient. He and his staff currently make about 60,000 gallons of beer a year, and 100,000 gallons a year would be a comfortable number. His plans are not to grow a lot more than that.
“I’m not interested in running 30 or 40 or 50 employees. It’s not within the scope of what I’m trying to do,” he said. “I live where all of this is going on.”
He said the brewery is right beside his house and sometimes people wander into the house looking for a bathroom.
He added that there are a couple of reasons the traffic might ease up. One is that there are lots of new breweries opening, all around the country and locally. He is also hoping to get a change in Vermont law that would allow him to mail beer directly to customers. Currently wine makers can mail wine, but beer makers cannot mail beer to out-of-state customers.
“We’re not purposely trying to bring people to us,” he said. He said he doesn’t advertise and the retail side of the business is only open from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays. The brewery is also starting to sell limited numbers of tickets to three special events each year to keep numbers under control.
He wondered how people would feel if Rocking Rock in Greensboro became known as an important geological formation and people started driving into town to see it by the droves. If that happened, would local people be upset with the town government, upset with the rock, or would they develop a special appreciation for it themselves?
Most in the room supported the project and said the brewery has helped the town.
“Right now I’m in my slow period,” said Rob Hurst of the Willey’s Store. He said this time of year he suffers when he loses one regular customer, which happened recently when someone had to go into a nursing home.
He said it’s clear that Hill Farmstead Brewery and the Jasper Hill Farm and cheese making business are drawing new business to Greensboro. People come to town to try to find those two places, he said.
“They’re always stopping and asking for directions,” Mr. Hurst said.
To try to help people — and to draw some of their business — he has put a map up beside his gas tank showing people how to find Hill Farmstead and Jasper Hill. He hopes that the tourists will fill up.
Rod Kerr, a neighbor of Mr. Hill’s who has a second home he rents out to tourists, said people who want to go to the brewery have been giving him lots of business. Some were renting the place that night.
“The amount of money that trickles out of that brewery is unbelievable,” he said. “We have no problems with it. It’s tremendous. Let’s put Greensboro on the map instead of trying to hide it.”
Mateo Kehler, one of the owners of Jasper Hill Farm, said Shaun Hill is to be congratulated. He said he doesn’t know of many people who start from scratch that makes a mark on the wider world the way his has done.
He said these kinds of businesses are creating excitement among a new generation of business people in Greensboro. It will encourage younger people to move here instead of leaving, he said.
“At the end of the day, you can take the pulse of the community in the school yard, and I think we’re doing okay,” Mr. Kehler said.
Jackie Tolman, another neighbor, said she has children and animals, and Mr. Hill always lets her know if there is an event coming up. He has spoken to her often about the traffic situation to ask if it’s bothering her.
“Shaun is a most conscientious neighbor and an excellent communicator,” she said. “I have complete faith that his vision is what he says it is.”
Mr. Hill was asked by the planning commission and zoning board members if he had done any traffic studies.
It has doubled very year, he said. “We could never make enough beer to satisfy demand.” He said 95 percent of the beer is sold within 60 miles of the brewery.
Asked about landscaping plans, Mr. Hill said he is working with the Elmore Roots nursery and intends to plant apple trees and fruit plants, including some of what might have been Lewis Hill’s original cultivars, to use in the beer making process.
Asked about energy plans, Mr. Hill said he currently has a permit to spread some of the waste from the beermaking process on the fields. Some day, he said, he would like to work with Peter Gebbie, who has a methane digester. He is also interested in adding wind or solar power at some point.
At this point the brewery has 16 parking spaces and the plans are for 36, so cars won’t have to park on the side of the road.
The permit was approved with conditions. No signs will be larger than six feet square or lit internally, and they will comply with all setback requirements. If the present sign by the side of the road is moved, it should comply with setback requirements and be moved back to 50 feet from the center of the road.
contact Bethany M. Dunbar at [email protected]