Planning Commission approves brewpub for Evergreen Conference Center site

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Opponents will take case to county commissioners

By Deb Hurley Brobst

While Evergreen is a step closer to having a brewpub at the former Evergreen Conference Center, neighboring residents hope they still can persuade the Jeffco commissioners that it doesn’t make sense to have a restaurant in a residential neighborhood.

The Jefferson County Planning Commission on March 5 unanimously recommended to the county commissioners that the rezoning be approved. The commissioners will conduct a public hearing before making a decision March 25.

At the county commissioners’ public hearing, neighbors plan to make the case that Fireweed and Iris drives, which provide the only access to the Conference Center, have no sidewalks, so neighborhood children ride their bikes and skateboards on the roads.

“The last thing we need to worry about is … people pulling out after happy hour (at the brewpub), because children may be playing on the roads. That’s what we don’t want to see in neighborhoods,” said the Rev. Duncan Miller of Evergreen Christian Church, which abuts the Conference Center property.

Anders and Debbie Ruikka, who bought the 4-acre parcel last year, plan to have a 4,000-square-foot neighborhood restaurant in one of the buildings on the property. County zoning ordinances require that no more than 25 percent, or in this case 1,000 square feet of the business, can be used to brew beer.

The couple are proposing a restaurant that seats about 100 people, with an eclectic menu. If the Ruikkas get the necessary approvals from the county, they hope to open in late summer and employ about 20 people.

About 50 people attended the Planning Commission meeting, and proponents who spoke outnumbered opponents about 3 to 1.

Proponents said the restaurant would be good for Evergreen’s economy, the Ruikkas would provide a community gathering place, and they would be sensitive to neighbors. Both Center/Stage Theatre and the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce supported the proposal.

Opponents, all of whom live in Hiwan Village, the 90-home subdivision next to the property, are concerned about traffic, parking and noise. They said a restaurant in a residential area that could be accessed only on neighborhood streets would place an undue burden on them and would lower their property values.

They also said they felt blindsided by the proposal because they had not been properly notified. County officials said they followed guidelines for notifying neighbors, but since the area doesn’t have a homeowner association, it was harder to get the information to residents.

Before he voted, Planning Commission member James Price said he favored the proposal based on three issues: The brewpub would be good for the entire Evergreen community, the proposal would be positive for the property owner, and he heard both positives and negatives for neighboring residents. He said the pros outweighed the cons.

The Conference Center is on Fireweed Drive in the same complex as Center/Stage and around the corner from the Evergreen Elks Lodge on Iris Drive east of Meadow Drive and north of Highway 74.

A community gathering place

Several speakers told the Planning Commission that Evergreen is all about community, and a brewpub would be a gathering place for neighbors. They said the Ruikkas already have done a lot to improve the property, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and that they would be good businesspeople and good neighbors.

“It would make the neighborhood feel more like a village,” said Margaret Rode, who lives on Lupine Drive. “It’s a place to bring clients (for my business), and it keeps the existing character of the neighborhood. I love my neighbors, but I don’t agree with them. This is not going to be a detriment to me and my family’s quality of life.”

Real estate agent Bill Downes told the commissioners the brewpub would be good for Evergreen.

“That kind of use will raise property values,” he said. “The Elks Club (around the corner from the Conference Center) has much more impact than a brewpub will.”

Candy Porter, director of the Evergreen Conference Center from 1994 to 2010, said she was elated the historic buildings were being restored. She said that when she operated the Conference Center, events were scheduled from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week with up to 125 guests at a time. She suggested that newer residents to the subdivision simply don’t remember those years.

“It’s wonderful that Debbie and Anders are bringing it back to serve the community,” Porter said.

Not in a neighborhood

Neighbors in Hiwan Village reiterated that the county should make its decision based on the Golden Rule: If the commissioners wouldn’t want a restaurant operating in their neighborhoods, they should vote down the proposal.

Representatives from Evergreen Christian Church read a resolution to the commission saying the church’s 120 members were against the proposal. Michelle Lee, who also lives on Fireweed Drive, said she polled households in the neighborhood, and 48 residents were opposed to the brewpub.

Neighbors said GPS units used by newcomers sometimes take them the long way along the entire length of Fireweed Drive, which is about three-quarters of a mile as it snakes through the neighborhood, rather than the short, less-intrusive way from Iris Drive to Fireweed Drive to get to the Conference Center.

Patti Semler, who lives across from the Conference Center, suggested there are empty commercial spaces elsewhere in Evergreen that could house a brewpub.

Miller asked if there are other places existed in Jeffco where people travel on residential streets through a neighborhood to get to a restaurant.

“The economic interests are important,” he said, “but (the Planning Commission has) to take the interests of the neighbors into consideration.”

Dori Papir, who lives across from the Conference Center, said: “This is as if the county is taking something away from us in terms of property value. People who are in favor of this proposal are not right across the street, so they don’t endure what we endure.”

Neighbor Ann Rovin added: “We love our quiet residential neighborhood. We think traffic will really increase. We’re sad our neighborhood could change in this manner.”

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.