Newton may soon allow craft breweries

Newton city officials have come up with a plan to add craft alcoholic distilleries to its zoning code. File Photo

Alcoholic beverage distilleries and craft beer pubs aren’t allowed in Newton, but they may soon be.

Zachery LeMel, long-range planner for the Newton Planning Department, spoke to the Zoning & Planning Committee and City Council on July 24 about adding a new land-use to the city’s commercial, manufacturing and mixed-use zones for breweries, wineries and craft beverage sales.

The move is more of a correction than a revolutionary new policy.

“There’s a relic in the zoning ordinance, a Prohibition-era policy which does not allow the bottling of alcoholic beverages,” LeMel explained. “So breweries, brew pubs, things like that are not allowed in Newton, while at the same time we kind of allow all of these things in some different way, separate and apart.”

In other words, people are allowed to buy, sell and consume alcoholic beverages in Newton at restaurants, bars and liquor stores, so why not let businesses distill them in the city too?

Craft beer breweries have risen in popularity over the past several years, with more than 130 operating in Massachusetts, according to state data. And in Greater Boston, craft beer breweries have flourished.

“There are a lot of benefits to these types of spaces, beyond just tax revenue for the city. They act as kind of third spaces for the city, for the community, and I think they fit very nicely within existing areas,” LeMel said. “I think you could image many, many places in Newton where a brewery or a craft beverage facility would make a lot of sense.”

LeMel suggested the city remove the ban on bottling alcoholic beverages and at the same time create a new land-use for craft beverage services. These businesses can include traditional brewery pubs and restaurants as well as boutique liquor stores where beverages are made and bottled for purchase.

There would be a cap on size as well, at least by right. Any brewery bigger than 10,000 square feet would need a special permit.

Under the city’s Village Center Overlay District plan, craft brewery businesses would be zoned for VC2 and VC3 areas, which are closer to the middle of the centers with zoning for higher-density buildings, as opposed to VC1 and MRT areas, which are at the village center edges with more residential lots and lower size limits.

The Planning Department will hold a public hearing in September on allowing craft breweries into the city.

“I was not alive during Prohibition, so I thought this would be a good way to get involved in the history of the city of Newton,” City Councilor Lipof, who’s helping move the effort along, said. “As I go around Greater Boston and see the vibrance that craft brewing brings to other cities and towns, I’ve just asked the question: Why can’t we have it here?”