Many in western Wake County have welcomed the various microbreweries moving into the area in recent years.
But when a brewery might be built next to an elementary school, popular support can wane.
“I mean, the location? Good gracious,” said Dr. Ann Barta. “It was ridiculous.”
Barta, now a stay-at-home mom and school volunteer, led a recent fight in Apex against a zoning proposal that could have allowed a microbrewery to be built across from Olive Chapel Elementary School.
No specific brewery had plans to build a location on the site, located in the lot diagonal from the school at the corner of Olive Chapel and N.C. 540., said Apex Town Manager Bruce Radford.
But when Barta heard the new development might allow a zoning permit for a microbrewery or microdistillery, she took 50 fliers to the school’s pickup line one day and distributed them to 50 cars.
The fliers asked people to sign an online petition asking the Apex Town Council to deny the zoning request. The petition received 59 signatures.
“If we had polled the whole school, I imagine very few parents would’ve been OK with what was being proposed,” Barta said.
Radford said developments typically receive many different types of zoning permits, so the owners have a wide range of options should businesses come calling. Gaining a large number of acceptable uses also means that if one or two are lost, such as in this case, the entire deal isn’t doomed.
At the town’s most recent meeting, Barta and several others, including her young son, spoke about the dangers of alcohol and their opposition to having a microbrewery near the school.
The developer’s representative, Stuart Jones of Jones Cnossen Engineering, said at the meeting that the microbrewery use would be removed due to their concerns.
The town council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning, without the brewery and distillery zoning allowed. The nearly 11-acre site still has a number of other potential commercial uses.
“The developer had said, you know, they didn’t have anybody out there with a letter of intent, nobody had asked them about it,” Radford said. “They just wanted it on there to keep their options open, so they were fine with letting it go.”
Barta’s petition cited fears that having a microbrewery near the school would encourage underage drinking and expose children to drunken behavior. Barta said she’s upset that school officials were never notified of the rezoning intentions.
Radford said the town meets with officials from local schools and the Wake County Public School System whenever it’s considering a residential development that might affect a certain school. But the conversations are narrowly focused, he said.
There’s no such policy for commercial developments such as this one, Radford said, and the council has never asked to change that procedure.
“When it comes to residential subdivisions, we in fact regularly speak with Wake County Public Schools, but when it comes to non-residential, we do not,” he said.
Barta said she wants the town to do more to reach out to parents and school staff regarding non-residential developments. She suggested including PTA members on the planning board.
“We can’t rely on the powers-that-be to always make the best decisions in the interest of children,” she said. “They’re focused on economics, I can only assume.”
With breweries taking off across the state and in Wake County, the town recently modified its rules to allow most non-residential developments to add microbrewery to the long list of uses that can be approved.
Barta said the town should consider going back to the old rules.
“It’s become evident that underage drinking is something that happens all over the country, and it needs to affect how towns make decisions,” she said.
The town recently approved a potential mirobrewery use at another development, near the Villages of Apex at 950 Windy Road. That location is close to Apex High School, although it is separated from the school by railroad tracks, trees, a creek and several homes.