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Santee Aims to Drink In Craft Beer Benefits Via Zoning Changes

San Diego’s East County, South County Move to Build Brewery Footprints
July 9, 2018
The city of Santee in eastern San Diego County is taking steps to join the ranks of the region’s craft beer-friendly cities, with zoning changes in the works to allow micro-breweries to operate within commercial zones where they were previously forbidden.

The zoning changes are expected to be approved and enacted by summer’s end by the Santee City Council, allowing the breweries to expand beyond the traditional industrial zones where their use has been permitted. City officials said micro-breweries, which generally produce fewer than 15,000 barrels annually for on and off-site consumption, would be allowed within most commercial zones that already allow office, retail and related commercial uses in non-residential neighborhoods.

Even amid slowing nationwide growth in craft beer sales, San Diego and other Southern California counties are seeing small-scale breweries proliferate, often locating in underutilized, older retail and industrial buildings. These businesses frequently create social buzz and ripple business activity -- including attracting other eateries, brewpubs and tasting rooms -- in places where such activity never existed previously.

Aided by the arrival of new residential developments, along with homebuyers and renters chased out of other San Diego regions by rising housing prices, new neighborhood craft beer hubs have surfaced in East County cities including Santee, El Cajon and La Mesa; and South County cities such as Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach.

After the past six years spent watching craft beer operations expand in the city of San Diego and North County communities, East County and South County cities have finally seen the wave arrive locally during the past year or so.

"We’ve had interest from a few brewers who had wanted to go into some of these spaces in the bigger commercial centers, but until now the zoning just didn’t allow them,” said Santee City Manager Marlene Best.

She said the aim of the zoning changes is not only to serve residents of Santee -- a city to the east of San Diego with a population just under 58,000 -- but also craft beer aficionados in neighboring communities who now drive long distances to breweries in central San Diego and North County cities such as Escondido and Vista.

"This could serve as a regional attraction,” Best said. “We could see people coming over from places like Poway and Tierrasanta (in eastern San Diego) to access these breweries and these other services.”

The region-wide San Diego Brewers Guild now counts 119 member companies, and the local brew-news publication, West Coaster, reported there were 153 licensed brewing sites operating in San Diego County at the end of June, with others in various planning and licensing stages.

Santee has four current craft brewers, three of which have only been open since mid-2015. The latest arrival was Council Brewing, which opened on Prospect Avenue in May; the next will likely be Three Frogs Beer Co., which city officials said leased a site on Mission Gorge Road earlier this month and has a state liquor sales license pending.

Another Santee project in the works is also among the biggest planned by any brewer in the region. San Diego-based Karl Strauss Brewing Co., which in the past year added new brewpubs in Los Angeles and Anaheim, is expected to begin work next year on a large new production facility in Santee.

The 10-acre project at Town Center Parkway and Cuyamaca Street, approved by the city of Santee in 2015 and currently undergoing reviews by county agencies, is slated to include an 112,500-square-foot facility housing a brewery, warehouse, tasting room and restaurant.

A Karl Strauss Brewing spokesman said the company is progressing with its Santee project plans but would have no further comment, though he added the brewer should have “more news to share” in about two months.

Pamela White, Santee’s economic development manager, said what Santee is generally seeking with its brewery-centric zoning changes is to support the leasing and commercial activity seen in other cities, mostly via projects that are much smaller than what Karl Strauss is planning.

Despite their business size, smaller brewers have the potential to enliven multiple parts of the city beyond the industrial zones where they’re already proven popular. Today’s brewers, she said, are increasingly seen as hybrid business models with impacts that go well beyond industrial production employment, to include hospitality and social benefits for the properties where they locate.

“Anything that extends the clock for local business is going to be helpful,” White said. “You’ve already seen in the industrial areas where business activity is being extended well beyond the hours of 9 to 5.”

In the meantime, other local cities outside of San Diego are actively seeking to burnish their own standing in craft beer circles. For instance, the South County community of National City, with a population just over 61,000, in late 2017 enacted changes allowing small breweries and tasting rooms to set up shop in industrial and mixed-use zones where they were previously prohibited, or were required to obtain specialized permits.

National City has two current craft brewers -- Machete Beer House and Embarcadero Brewing & Supply -- and a third, Novo Brazil Brewing of nearby Chula Vista, is currently processing permits for a National City location.

National City is now actively seeking out new business from south of the U.S.-Mexico border, recently holding meetings in Tijuana and aiming to lure brewers from that Baja California region who might set up satellite operations in National City.
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