The proposal by a 29-year-old schoolteacher to open a small brewery in a Seaside Park storefront elicited strong opinions from residents and officials at a meeting of the borough’s planning board Tuesday night.
Jeffrey Greco, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who said his “passion” is brewing beer at home, wants to expand his hobby to a business at 1409 W. Central Avenue, near the corner of O Street. The 640 sq. ft. – 20-foot by 32-foot – area of the existing commercial building could accommodate about 30 to 40 people, would not host live entertainment and would not serve food. Patrons would be given a tour of the small brewing setup, offered a 4-ounce glass of beer, then be able to buy beer by the glass or fill up a growler to take home.
Despite Greco’s plans to keep the operation small, some were vehemently against the idea. Planning Board member Jack Moyse said when the borough bought back a liquor license some years ago, it was a decision that no more establishments should serve alcohol in town. A brewery does not require a municipal liquor license – small breweries operate under state licenses that allow them to serve only the beer they brew on-site.
“Why we’re going to grant variances and bend over backwards for a barroom at O Street is beyond the pale,” said Moyse, who occasionally expressed his contempt for the proposal throughout the meeting. “I don’t think this should be approved in any way, shape or form. We don’t need a bar up on O Street. Microbreweries are a great thing, but put it where it belongs – not in a residential area and not in the borough of Seaside Park.”
Greco said his small brewery would be far different from a traditional bar. There is, by law, an educational component, there is no entertainment or televisions, and breweries usually attract a more serene crowd that spends a small amount of time on-site, he said.
“Customers only typically stay for about a half hour,” said Greco, adding that the site, as proposed, has not seating. “We don’t want someone to come in and stay the entire day and make it anything more than it should be.”
The ingredients for the beer Greco would make would be locally-sourced, he said, and each variety would be named after local shipwrecks and Coast Guard references, a nod to his military service.
“As a teacher, I really want to focus on the history of Seaside Park and the island itself,” said Greco.
Among his detractors was borough councilman Michael Tierney, who said he lives near the proposed storefront.
“You could be the biggest attraction ever to come down to Seaside, and that would be bad for us,” said Tierney. “I also don’t see how the liquor would be regulated.”
Greco said his staff, mainly family members, would be trained to check IDs and serve responsibly.
Sherry Villano, owner of Villano Realtors, said she worried about property values around the proposed brewery and whether the brewing process would produce any odor. Greco said the equipment used for brewing is essentially a home brewing kit, and any aroma produced by the process could be contained inside the store space or filtered before moving through a vent. The brewing process does not produce noise, he said.
Villano characterized the brewery as a beer “manufacturing” site based on one planning document and spoke out against it, worrying that the vacant space Greco is considering renting is not in the best condition to support such a business.
Greco also had supporters on the board.
“As far as calling it a bar, it’s not,” said board member Dominick Bucci. “You’re very limited as to what you can do there. I know people who brew beer right in their homes here in Seaside, and nobody even knows about it. I think it would be something good for this town. I’ve been to a lot of breweries around this country, and I’ve never seen a problem. Maybe he doesn’t have a full business plan, but he has a vision, and with a lot of hard work he can make it work.”
Greco said his business would add to the Seaside Park community. It would be open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 noon to 8 p.m. during the summer season, and Friday and Saturday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter. On Sundays, it would be open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. year round. Greco would brew beer about two days a week, a process that he said would take a few hours and produce about 31 gallons of beer. He said his operation would be the smallest brewery in New Jersey; the state’s microbrewery permitting law allows small brewers to make 15,000 gallons of beer per year.
“I don’t want to be Kane Brewing, I don’t want to be Budweiser,” Greco said. “This was a vacant spot and this is my passion. I’m a full-time teacher, a football and volleyball coach. I’m looking for something to be added to my life.”
Moyse made a motion to deny the application outright, but ultimately the board decided to provide Greco another chance to make his case and address issues of parking and other concerns brought up by board members.
The hearing will resume at the board’s March 28 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the municipal court room.