Lamplighter Brewing Co. Has a Home!

Ahhh it feels good to write that title! Turns out finding real estate in Cambridge for a brewery isn’t the easiest task, but, after two years of searching, we have finally found the perfect space.

The future home of Lamplighter Brewing Co is…(drumroll please!) 284 Broadway in downtown Cambridge! Wahoo!!!

We signed a lease for the building back in March, but have remained rather quiet about the news due to an impending variance process. The building at 284 Broadway resides in a “Business A” zoning district, which can house a whole myriad of businesses ranging from an auto repair garage (the current use at this space) to a veterinary clinic. However, because “brewing” isn’t referenced in the zoning code, a brewery falls under the label of a bottling facility, which is required to be in a “Heavy Industrial” district. This law dates back to the 1960s when Coca-Cola and the like were installing massive bottling plants, and Cambridge (appropriately) hoped to limit the areas they could operate within. However, the label is a bit strange for us since our kegging and canning set-up is about the size of a compact car, but it is the closest applicable categorization in the zoning guidelines, so we found ourselves in a sticky situation – we had signed a lease on a beautiful 10,000 square foot building in the heart of Cambridge that was begging to be used as a brewery, but needed approval from the zoning board to allow "Bottling of Beverages" in this "Business A" area.

These heavy industrial zones are dark purple and only appear in a few areas of Cambridge – a small sliver of downtown Kendall Square (too expensive for us), and a small segment of the Fresh Pond/Alewife area (not a bad option, but there really wasn’t anything available during our real estate hunt). Essentially, applying for a use variance was inevitable, so we dove right in (http://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/CDD/Maps/Zoning/cddmap_zoning_base_11x17.pdf).

These heavy industrial zones are dark purple and only appear in a few areas of Cambridge – a small sliver of downtown Kendall Square (too expensive for us), and a small segment of the Fresh Pond/Alewife area (not a bad option, but there really wasn’t anything available during our real estate hunt). Essentially, applying for a use variance was inevitable, so we dove right in (http://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/CDD/Maps/Zoning/cddmap_zoning_base_11x17.pdf).

As it turns out, applying for a zoning variance isn’t the quickest process either…it took two months to get our floor plan, elevation, and application ready to go, and another two to get on the docket for a zoning hearing meeting. During this time we worked on meeting with residents and businesses in the area to address their concerns and garner support, and also worked on becoming increasingly superstitious (NEVER forget to tap the lucky brick when you walk past the building).

Existing and proposed front elevation for 284 Broadway

The variance hearing date fell on Thursday, July 16th. We were scheduled for 9 pm after a slew of other cases, but ended up appearing in front of the board around 10:30 pm. The chairman of the Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeals began the case by sternly saying “You realize that use variances are very rarely granted…” This was not an auspicious start.

After a grueling 15 minutes of presenting our reasons for applying and responding to tricky questions from the board members, the hearing was opened up to public comment. This is when the tables began to turn in our favor. Three building abutters, three Area 4 neighbors, one local business owner, and one former city council member stood up to speak adamantly in support of our project. The chairman also noted that four other neighbors, the Area 4 Neighborhood Coalition, the City Planning Board, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, and two current city council members had written letters to the board expressing their desire to see the variance pass. There was no opposition, and the neighborhood and Cambridge support was incredible and overwhelming. As you may have guessed since I’m writing a blog post, the board unanimously granted our zoning variance. The phrase “it takes a village” really could not be more accurate, and we are incredibly grateful to be moving into the Area 4 neighborhood amongst such avid brewery fans.

All smiles after receiving a yes from the board! (From left to right) The Lamplighter team: AC, Tyler, + Cayla, and friends and avid Lamplighter supporters: Michelle + Aaron

All smiles after receiving a yes from the board! (From left to right) The Lamplighter team: AC, Tyler, + Cayla, and friends and avid Lamplighter supporters: Michelle + Aaron

With the zoning behind us, we are now back on the grind to get construction documents done and wrap up loose ends before moving into the building. We hope to begin renovations in the fall, and have the space open to brew, drink, and hang out in by spring 2016. In all fairness, our timeline has been a bit optimistic in the past, but we’re working to stick to this one. More updates to follow soon!

Cheers,

Cayla