Microbrewery project brewing battle in the Heights

February 27, 2013 5:09:50 PM PST
A battle is brewing because of plans to build a microbrewery in northwest Houston.

The developer is fighting with the city over 10 feet of land in the Heights. He bought an undeveloped lot between North Main and Norhill on the south side of West Cavalcade, and now says what the city wants him to do with some of that land would force him to make drastic changes to his plans.

The fight is over something called setbacks. Supporters of increased urban density would like a lot of businesses to be built as close to a street as possible, but the city says on large roads, they have to push the building back for safety reasons.

Justin Engle's dream is to build a microbrewery in the neighborhood he lives in. When he and his business partner found a plot of land on Cavalcade, they jumped in.

"Everybody tells me how hard it is to try and get a small business up and running in the city," Engle said.

But they didn't realize just how hard. The problem started when the city told them that Calvacade is a major road, and therefore all new buildings must have a 25-foot setback.

"Basically, this amount of land would just be a parking area," Engle said.

Engle asked for a variance, a 15-foot setback to make his brewery more pedestrian friendly and actually allow more parking.

Initially, the planning commission balked.

"The planning commission doesn't look at breweries on a day-to-day basis as they would multifamily or residential, so it was a learning curve for both parties," said Brian Crimmins with the City of Houston Planning Department.

Beside the city problems, Engle has to deal with the reality that not everyone, including neighbor Roy Vale, wants a brewery to open.

"I would prefer it to be a little restaurant or something just healthy. Beer, it's OK," Vale said.

After a call to City Council and another meeting Wednesday, there is now some movement. If Engle makes a few tweaks to his plans, the city is now being flexible.

"The city is aware that one-size-fits-all isn't always the best policy," Crimmins said.

The city should approve a plan that will allow the brewery to have a similar set back as the rest of the neighborhood.

"I'm hopeful they're going to work out," Engle said.

The city is delaying the proposal for two weeks in hopes it would be enough time to reach a reasonable resolution.

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