After a petition with 1,500 signatures and a unanimous, hard-fought vote of approval from the local zoning board, Jacksonville, Fla.-based brewery Engine 15 is about to open its third location in *checks notes* Milford, Conn.
Yes, that’s correct. Connecticut’s newest and most ambitious craft brewery project has been cleared to open after unanimous vote from Milford’s Planning and Zoning Board. Dockside Waterfront Biergarten is a picturesque 4,200-sq-ft, 30-tap craft brewery waterfront project on the Housatonic River. The space has enough land for 112 parking spots, a big, beautiful biergarten overlooking the river and two docks with a total of 70 slips for boaters, jet skiers and others to pull up.
It’s a perfect site for a craft brewery, so how did Jacksonville’s Engine 15 get involved?
“A friend put me in touch with Dan Bagley, co-owner of Dockside, and thought I should take a look at this beautiful piece of property that he knew about in Milford, Connecticut,” said Bob Chicoine, co-owner of Dockside and the chief financial officer for Engine 15 Brewing Co. “Immediately after meeting Dan, and seeing it, I was interested in being a part of revitalization effort of this underused waterfront property.”
Over the past decade, Connecticut has experienced a more than 500 percent increase in the number of craft breweries, with nearly 70 up-and-running statewide today. The expansion here stated to seemed like a no-brainer.
“So I asked the founder and head brewmaster of Engine 15, Luch Scremin, to come up and gut check us on whether the location was a good place for a craft brewery,” Chicoine said. “He agreed, and said it was a great place to put a nice 7-bbl brewhouse in the 4,000-sq-ft brewpub, leaving enough area for a bar area and small kitchen.”
Now, with Milford Planning and Zoning approval, Chicoine is looking forward to getting the building permit from the city and moving full-steam ahead with construction.
Getting past the zoning board
From the jump, Chicoine said the Planning and Zoning was going to be a challenge, which is understandable considering the ambitious plan.
“We didn’t take it lightly,” he said. “There wasn’t a week that went by where we weren’t meeting with folks from the community, and other stakeholders and business leaders, about the project to listen, answer any potential questions or objections and to let them know about the job-creating, neighborhood-revitalizing, waterfront access providing benefits of the project.”
Once they found out the board’s agenda June 19 included a vote, they launched a petition to ensure that all 11 members of the board could see first-hand that there’s support for the project.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, figuring 100 or so signatures would come through from some of the folks we talked to one-on-one in the community, and then from family and friends on Facebook,” Chicoine said. “But the amount of support blew away my wildest expectations. We received over 1,500 signatures in support of the project in about three weeks with a significant portion coming from Milford residents.”
Also: Each time someone signed that petition an individual email in support of the project was sent directly to each respective member of the board’s email address. That’s a lot of emails. Chicoine didn’t know this at the time.
“Thankfully, board members were good sports about it,” he said.
As with any major project, there were one or two folks who were concerned with traffic and noise, and the Dockside team did its best to address those concerns, even agreeing to have no outside speakers or live entertainment as a condition of passage.
“Overall, the work that so many people did in the community to listen talk to folks, addressing their concerns while putting together the plans and capital necessary to put together this game-changing waterfront project — in addition to Planning and Zoning Members genuinely caring about smart investments in the future of Milford — is what I believe put this over the top at the public hearing, and the petition and media attention certainly played a role in that, too,” Chicoine said.
Milford’s 11-member Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously in favor of the first-of-its-kind project after several Milford residents, during the public hearing portion of the meeting, spoke in favor of Dockside’s job-creating, neighborhood revitalizing benefits for the community.
City Economic Development Director Julie Nash read a letter of support from EDC chairman Michael Lynch, who wrote that the economic impact of craft breweries is “staggering,” and noted the importance of job creation. State Rep. Kim Rose, D-Milford, whose district includes Devon — and who was long involved in the Devon revitalization effort — also wrote in favor.
Some Engine 15 history
Engine 15 opened up its first spot on Beach Boulevard at Jacksonville Beach in 2010, making its beer beginning in 2011 on a 4-bbl system at its Jacksonville Beach brewpub. Chicoine got involved in 2013 when his friend, founder and head brewmaster of Engine 15 Luch Scremin, felt confident enough to distribute and was looking for someone to join in this partnership to expand, which also meant needing another building and a production facility to do so.
“Fortunately for me, he reached out because I had expressed interest from the time he opened that I love craft beer and wanted to be involved in any possible way I could,’ Chicoine said.
Engine 15’s larger production brewery opened in the downtown Jacksonville neighborhood of LaVilla in 2013. The facility (two buildings totaling 38,000 sq ft) features a 20-bbl brewhouse and 60-bbl fermentation tanks, at increased annual production at the time of purchase from 1,000 bbls at the beach location to 10,000 bbls downtown.
Chicoine sid they will be hiring a brewmaster specific to the Milford location who will learn under Scremin and continue doing right by the Engine 15 brand, with some new beersy specific to Milford and the northeast region.
“To be clear: We love Jacksonville, Florida, and it will continue to serve as home to Engine 15 craft beer, and we at Dockside look forward to housing an Engine 15 waterfront craft brewery and biergarten in a place that we also love, Milford, Connecticut.”
Getting the green light from Milford’s Planning and Zoning Board represents the last agency or board approval that is necessary for Dockside to start construction. The final hurdle permit-wise is securing a building permit from the city. Once construction is complete, Dockside will need to receive a Certificate of Occupancy from the city. Chicoine and Bagley hope to open Dockside in 2019.