The former church in the centre of Ucluelet could find new life as a microbrewery and lounge.
St. Aidan’s on the Hill—1601 Peninsula Road—was deconsecrated in 2010 and sold to local developer Leif Hagar in 2011. Hagar has spent the past few years trying to maneuver through the district’s zoning processes in an attempt to transform the church into a downtown feature.
These efforts took a step forward during a recent regular council meeting where Ucluelet’s council gave first and second reading to a rezoning bylaw that would allow Ucluelet local Dennis Morgan to operate a microbrewery and lounge at the site.
With the first two readings in the rearview mirror, a public hearing will be held for locals to voice their support or opposition to Morgan’s proposal. That hearing will be held in council chambers on May 10 at 7 p.m.
In a report submitted to council last week, the district’s lead planner John Towgood said microbreweries with lounges attached are becoming increasingly popular throughout the province.
“These microbreweries, although industrial in nature, are developing a commercial draw in their own right,” he wrote. “The small brewery sector is showing increasing growth potential across BC with microbreweries creating economic benefits for local economies and becoming tourist draws.”
He noted Morgan is proposing a small operation with less than 2,500 hectolitres of beer produced each year and wrote that he had reached out to other Local Governments with similar-sized microbreweries in their towns and received positive feedback.
“The resounding feedback has been positive with no complaints based on noise, smell, waste materials or loading. That being said, there will be impact with the loading and unloading of material as the subject site does not have a designated onsite loading space,” Towgood wrote.
He noted the former church is not attached to a parking lot or easily accessible loading zone but suggested Morgan would schedule deliveries at non-peak hours.
“The applicant has indicated they will schedule those deliveries in the early hours of the morning similar to what the other businesses are currently doing,” he wrote.
Coun. Mayco Noel agreed to move ahead to a public hearing but questioned how the loading and unloading would work.
“Everybody knows it’s a tight corner there,” he said. “That’s the only thing that I do have a little bit of concerns about. I think it’s good were moving forward; it’s just the loading and unloading portion.”
Coun. Randy Oliwa agreed.
“It’s always been a tight spot,” he said. “I’m comfortable with it going to public and seeing what comes back from that process.”
Morgan told the Westerly News after the meeting that he’s taking a wait and see approach on the project but is confident a microbrewery would be well received by the community.
“Before moving forward too far on the business plan or anything, I have to make sure that it’s going to be allowed,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are looking for a gathering space of sorts that the church would fulfill and there are many people who are really just hoping that something, anything, happens in that church…It’s almost the epitome of downtown.”
He said he has received “nothing but positive feedback” from the district about the project so far.
“They want to see it happen. They recognize there’s some issues to be dealt with, like parking, but it doesn’t matter what business goes into that building; all the same issues are going to be there,” he said.
He said microbreweries are growing in popularity and fit well within Ucluelet’s vibe.
“It’s an industry based around quality, not necessarily quantity, and alternative quality. People are hungry, or thirsty I guess, for craft beer,” he said. “I don’t see why that won’t work here.”
If everything flows smoothly through the public hearing and zoning process, Morgan hopes to have the microbrewery operating by the spring of 2017.
“The business plan is slow but sure. I’ve had some great assistance from other people in the micro brewing industry; they’ve been very helpful,” he said.
“It was almost an overly daunting endeavor until I met with some people from another microbrewery...They came here and looked at the space and we talked for hours and hours and hours and they really took the daunting level down many levels because it’s all doable, but it is time and making sure you have your facts straight.”
He plans to have the microbrewery and lounge open year-round and expects to employ at least five full time staff.
“I want to have exceptional service,” he said. “I want to have enough people that when a customer asks, ‘What kind of hops is this?’ that server can take the two minutes, not feel like they’re neglecting their other duties, and answer the question in an informed manner.”