It started innocently enough. Kevin Erskine, founder of Coelacanth Brewing Company, sent an email to Susan Pollock, his contact for the Norfolk Planning Department, to inquire about doing work on the brewery prior to the May 28th hearing on whether or not Coelacanth will be granted the special exemption to operate a microbrewery in the city.
The answer to that question was unsurprising (do so at your own risk), but what caught Kevin off guard was something else in the email. Norfolk is in danger of losing Coelacanth over parking concerns.
A formal complaint against the proposed brewery has been lodged by the North Carolina-based Rosemyr Corporation, owners of the adjacent Center Shops complex, over a lack of parking. Kevin is certainly not oblivious to the parking concerns; Coelacanth wouldn’t have dedicated parking, a hurdle he was prepared to navigate. He had never intended for visitors to the brewery to use the parking dedicated to the Center Shops, which are clearly labeled as only for patrons of the shopping center. There is street parking available, and it has always been the intention that Coelacanth would be a great opportunity to encourage more pedestrian and bike traffic. The parking situation in Ghent isn’t ideal for any business, and already many are forced to get by with limited options for customers. Kevin has made it a point to reach out to surrounding businesses from the beginning, and without exception they have all been excited about the exposure that Ghent’s first brewery would bring to a street just off the beaten paths of 21st Street and Colley Avenue. Drawing more people to that corridor is a benefit for all.
Upon receipt of the email, Kevin contacted me to see if AltDaily would be interested in helping drum up public support in advance of the Planning Commission meeting, as reaction to the article I had previously written had clearly shown that Norfolk was excited about a Ghent brewery. We met that day for lunch, and what happened during that time was truly surprising.
While we sat at Cogan’s NoCo to discuss what AltDaily could do to help a new local business get over this hurdle, Kevin got a call from Norfolk Economic Development. The department, which had been instrumental in getting Kevin to choose Norfolk as the location for Coelacanth and about whom Kevin has always spoken very highly, had heard about the opposition from Rosemyr. The solution offered to help was to show Kevin some different locations in Norfolk, the implication being that the location in Ghent was now dead as a result of this challenge made from from a desk in North Carolina. The commission meeting, it was implied, was now a foregone conclusion.
Where did the support go? When scouting potential locations, Kevin, who lives in Virginia Beach, didn’t have Norfolk as a first choice. Luckily the warehouse on 22nd had exactly what he was looking for: a good location in a neighborhood with a great sense of community. The other places that he had looked at in Norfolk just didn’t feel right: more industrial than friendly. With the Ghent option now off the table, especially after being blindsided this far into the process, why would he now choose a Norfolk location that he had previously not liked, to say nothing of a shaken confidence in the democratic processes of the city? Sitting there with Kevin as this all went down, especially considering that I am a Norfolk resident who loves the city, was difficult. I was as shocked as he was.
Later in the day I received an unsolicited email from Lori Crouch, Public Relations Manager for Norfolk, who had heard that I was working on a story about the opposition to Coelacanth. In it, she says: “There are concerns from the nearby private property owner about parking spilling onto his property. We’ve received a letter about it. It is our understanding Kevin is going to reach out to Rite Aid about space on their property. He meets the parking requirements established by the ordinance for the microbrewery so again the city doesn’t have an issue with parking.” If the brewery is not in violation of any city ordinances why is the city recommending that Coelacanth find a new location? As for the possibility, which Kevin had raised in desperation, of securing parking at Rite – Aid across the street; that building is owned by, you guessed it, Rosemyr Corporation. Good luck.
What strikes me in all of this is how ridiculous it all is. I can understand why Rosemyr would have an issue with the parking, but that’s not the fault of Coelacanth. Where people choose to park, knowing the ramifications of parking where not allowed, is on them. This is the reality anywhere. If you park at the Center Shops because the Farm Fresh lot is full you might get towed, you have been warned. For a decision to be made about not allowing a vibrant addition to the neighborhood based solely on the concern that one out-of-state corporation has no faith in the ability of people to follow basic rules is ludicrous. This should be a decision made by the City Council, who are given a recommendation by the Planning Commission AFTER both sides of the argument are heard, with the best interests of the citizens as the compass.
It remains to be seen if Kevin will continue a fight that those who are supposed to support him have already given up on. Let’s make sure our voices, the voices of the citizens and local businesses, are heard.
To show support for Coelacanth, let them know you care on their Facebook page.
To let the Norfolk Planning Commission know how you feel, click here for their contact info.
To implore Rosemyr to have a more evolved position on this topic, here is their contact info.