Friday, June 14, 2024

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Elon town council passes on Gibsonville brewer’s proposal to resurrect beer garden at town parklet


Elon’s town council has decided not to order another round of a pilot program that had enabled a Gibsonville brewer to set up a beer garden on town property for two months in 2023.

Rather than renew its exclusive relationship with Praveen Karandikar of the Toasty Kettlyst, the town council voted to end its experiment with al fresco beer sales during its latest regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday.

The council went on to decree that the small grassy knoll that had been home to Karandikar’s beer garden would serve as a green space for passive enjoyment – at least for the moment. Its members instructed the town’s staff to allow brewers and food venders to use this publicly-owned land off of Holt Avenue during special events.

The town council passed this two-part proposal by a margin of 5-to-0 after it drew a ringing endorsement from Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe.

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“Our downtown master plan says we need a downtown green space, and I think people would be reluctant to use that space if they think it’s only there for one thing,” said the mayor, who only votes with the council in the event of a tie. “My [preference] would be to only have breweries there for special events.”

This council ultimately arrived at this unanimous verdict after a wide-ranging discussion that began at a previous council meeting on February 13.

That night, Jill Weston, the town’s downtown development director, had approached the council with a request from Karandikar to resume his operations on the town’s grassy knoll, where he had originally established his beer garden this past October. The Gibsonville brewer would go on to operate this outdoor bar for the better part of two months under an exclusive deal with the town that guaranteed Elon a 5-percent cut of his earnings.

Weston admitted that the brewer’s initial run had been a bit disappointing due to the weather, which had forced him to break camp a few weeks before his arrangement expired. She added that Karandikar’s meager returns had also reduced the town’s 5-percent share to just $106.40 – far short of $4,000 that the municipality had spent on electrical lines and other improvements to facilitate the brewer’s activities.

In spite of the beer garden’s unpromising start, Weston encouraged the council to give Karandikar another crack at his beer garden when the weather grew more amiable. Under this proposal, the Gibsonville brewer would be able to retail his house brews from a specialized trailer for a period that would have tentatively run from April to October.

In the meantime, members of the town’s downtown advisory board had suggested that, if the council renews its arrangement with Karandikar, it should also offer the Holt Avenue site to rotation with other area brewers that have more experience with outdoor beer sales.

The council, which was short two members on February 13, ultimately asked the advisory board’s members to brainstorm some more options for the town’s grassy knoll and present them at the council’s next semimonthly gathering. On Monday, Weston returned to the council with the results of the advisory board’s strategy session.

“We did have a great discussion at our board meeting,” she added, “and we all agreed that [the Holt Avenue property] is a rather small space, but there are a number of things we can do.”

Weston went on to catalog some of the board’s proposed uses for the town’s grassy knoll, which included an undifferentiated green space, a small entertainment venue, and a beer garden that would only operate during special events. In either case, she said that the town ought to invest some money on signage to make it clear that this property is, in fact, a public recreation area owned by the town.

Weston also reminded the council that its members still hadn’t ruled on Karandikar’s request to revive his beer garden nor on the competing proposal to let a rotating roster of brewers make use of the town’s grassy knoll.

The latter suggestion received some additional support from Mackenzie Brown, a member of Elon’s downtown advisory board, who had originally pitched the revolving roster to the council on February 13. Brown told the town’s leaders that she had initially proposed this idea in the hope that it would make Elon a destination for pub patrons from other parts of the county.

“We want people to come to Elon,” she added before Monday’s decision. “It just seemed beneficial to the town to get some of that foot traffic.”

“Do people really get excited about a beer garden?  It’s been perceived by folks that this is a beer garden, and that has offended some folks . . . Why is the town even getting into the beer business?”

– Elon mayor pro tem Monti Allison

Yet, the plan to transform the town’s parklet into a perennial beer garden fell flat with Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe, who insisted that such a move may discourage other activities on the town’s property. Meanwhile, the notion that a beer garden might send out-of-towners flocking to Elon found little merit with the town’s mayor pro tem Monti Allison.

“Do people really get excited about a beer garden?” the mayor pro tem inquired. “It’s been perceived by folks that this is a beer garden, and that has offended some folks…Why is the town even getting into the beer business?”

Other members of the council were less inclined to simply shrug off Karandikar’s request for a second chance at a beer garden in Elon.

Councilmember Stephanie Bourland, who had been absent from the council’s previous meeting, admitted that she was torn between her desire to encourage a variety of uses and a dutiful urge to “dance with the one who had brought you.”

Councilman Quinn Ray, likewise, expressed a sense of loyalty to the Gibsonville brewer who had originally seen the potential for a beer garden to flourish on the town’s grassy knoll.

“I want to do right by Prav,” Ray told the rest of the council. “He really didn’t get a shot…and if we alternate it and do other things, I want to make sure he’s involved.”

“It feels like we’re being asked to be marketing and micromanaging this.  We’ve got to delegate this to somebody sometime because I don’t think this is our role.”

– Elon town councilman Randy Orwig

At the same time, the administrative burden of a perennial beer garden didn’t go down well with councilman Randy Orwig, who like Bourland had been absent from the meeting on February 13.

“It feels like we’re being asked to be marketing and micromanaging this,” Orwig told the rest of the council on Monday. “We’ve got to delegate this to somebody sometime because I don’t think this is our role.”

In the end, Allison made a motion to officially designate the Holt Avenue parklet as generic green space rather than set it aside for a beer garden. His motion, which Ray went on to second, also instructed the town’s staff to open up the property to brewers and food venders during special events.

The council went on to vote 5-to-0 in favor of this two-part proposal.

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