Planning Commission Aims to Help City Tap Craft Brewery Market

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Board of Zoning Appeals and City Planning Commission approved expanding opportunities for microbreweries and micro-distillers in the city during its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Also during the meeting, which was held virtually Tuesday afternoon, the panel put the brakes on a proposed daycare center at 20 Federal Place because of safety concerns.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend to City Council to amend the permitted use table of the Youngstown Development Code to add “Microbrewery/Micro-distillery” under the Schedule of Uses, Commercial, Other Commercial Services, and added the definitions of same and the terms to the list of regulated uses. 

“We have a pretty restrictive code,” Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Ray said. That code didn’t account for the growing craft beverage industry that includes Noble Creature Cask House, located in a converted closed church at 126 E. Rayen Ave., and Penguin City Brewing Co., which operates out of the former B&O train station. 

“A lot of times you will see these craft breweries going into historic buildings,” Ray said. 

Urban planner Hunter Morrison, who is a consultant for the city’s community planning and economic development department, said he has been involved with microbreweries since Great Lakes Brewing Co. started in Cleveland and pointed to such operations’ role in spurring economic development activity and catalyzing community reinvestment. 

“This will be a very significant improvement to the code,” he remarked.    

“They are kind of a catalyst and create a buzz when you put them in there,” Ray affirmed. 

The councilman also pointed to the economic impact, noting that Ohio ranks 10th in terms of economic impact from craft breweries. On average, someone working in the industry makes $43,000 annually, he said. 

Even with the change to the code, a brewer still would have to meet the other requirements and permitting associated with operating an establishment in the regulated use category, he said. 

“This is kind of the wave of the future,” said Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works. 

The members of the city panel were less inclined to approve a set of variances sought by applicant Patrick Lankey, principal architect with Strollo Architects, on behalf of My Little Rascals Daycare. They voted unanimously on a motion by Law Director Jeff Limbian to deny the requested variances.

The Youngstown daycare center planned to occupy approximately 7,400 square feet of the second floor of 20 Federal Place. The location primary would serve employees of VXI Global Solutions, which occupies part or all of four floors in the building and provide slots for about 40 children. 

Lankey had applied to reduce the front, side and rear yard setbacks and to reduce the parking requirement. The city-owned office building does not have dedicated parking but there is an adjacent lot that primarily is used by VXI employees.  

Lankey offered assurances that children “at no time” would be responsible for escorting themselves to and from the daycare center. 

Owner Tonya Barnette said the daycare would provide transportation to Wick Park for outdoor activities, and would utilize the YMCA of Youngstown’s Central Branch and Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology as well. 

“I believe this will be a strong addition to the downtown,” Lankey said. 

Vern Richberg, regional director for the Minority Business Assistance Center at the Youngstown Business Incubator, offered his support for the project during the virtual meeting. He reported the center has been working with the daycare for about a year on feasibility studies and financing. 

“It makes a lot of sense,” he said. “We do think it is a very good fit.”

Members of the board weren’t convinced. Law Director Jeff Limbian expressed concerns about the lack of an onsite outdoor play area, the ages of the children being served, parking and, “a major issue,” pickup and drop-off of children since there is no dedicated space for that. 

“We always have concerns with regard to daycare centers and this seems to be a particularly difficult fit for the safety of children during the pickup and drop-off,” he said. 

“This doesn’t seem well thought out to me,” he added. 

During the meeting, the committee members approved separate recommendation to change the zoning of properties on Hillman Street and First Street from 1 & 2 Family Residential to Mixed-Use Community.

Ernest Hudson, who owns the property at 2510 Hillman St., plans to open a carryout and drive-thru restaurant offering affordable healthful food to the neighborhood, including soul food, pizza and international foods. He has worked in food service for years and has family members active in the industry who are going to help him, he said. 

The neighborhood is “considered pretty much a desert” in terms of providing health food, he said. The building originally was a restaurant and bakery, so his project is “just returning it to its original design,” he said.   

Ray said he has been working with the city zoning department to update the zoning on the six First Street parcels, which abut properties fronting Mahoning Avenue. Changing the zoning will allow the properties to be packaged with the Mahoning Avenue land, making it more attractive for development. “It would be a win-win,” he said. 

The city is working with the Western Reserve Port Authority in the hope there would be “future development” on the now-vacant property, which is behind a closed auto parts store. 

“Having a significant amount of land on our major corridor makes it a good candidate for future development,” he said.     

In addition, the panel voted against recommending City Council approve four waivers requested by Family Dollar Store for stores on Mahoning Avenue, McCartney Road, Market Street and Oak Street. 

Participants in the meeting, including Sixth Ward Councilwoman Anita Davis, argued against allowing the packaged alcohol sales in neighborhoods that already were saturated with such retailers.  

“I don’t see that this helps us at all with having neighborhoods that are inundated with places that sell liquor,” she said. 

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.