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In Portsmouth: Ragged Island gets OK for outdoor beer garden

Guests will be required to make reservations


PORTSMOUTH — Ragged Island’s plan to get people on its new farm property as quickly as possible by way of an outdoor summer beer garden received unanimous approval by the Zoning Board of Review Thursday night.

The brewery will host a limited beer garden at the property at 54 Bristol Ferry Road from 3-8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 1-6 p.m. on Sundays from July to September. 

The brewery, which has been operating out of the Portsmouth Industrial Park at 200 Highpoint Ave., received zoners’ approval in April 2019 for a special-use permit to move its business to the 37-acre parcel previously owned by the Van Hof family, where the Island Garden Shop was operated for many years. The approved farm brewery plan — Ragged Island is growing hops and other ingredients for its beers — included the construction of a new, modern 9,335-square-foot building for brewing operations and seasonal taproom.

Due to a pandemic that has significantly eaten into its sales, however, the brewery scaled back its plans and eliminated the new building for now, and will renovate an existing barn for use as the taproom instead. Now that a full opening has been delayed, the brewery came up with the idea for the beer garden to get patrons on the property as soon as possible.

“Through no fault of their own, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a severe downturn of this business,” said zoning board member Ben Furriel, explaining his vote to approve. Mr. Furriel echoed other members’ views that the new proposal was actually a less-impactive use on abutters than the originally approved plan.

The brewery doesn’t have any outdoor options at its existing facility at the industrial park, and the 900-square-foot taproom there is too small to permit safe social distancing, Matt Gray, president of Ragged Island Brewing Co., told the board.

Like most bars and restaurants around the state, “we’re definitely hurting,” he said, noting the brewery’s sales volume is down by more than 60 percent because the business can offer only takeout sales currently. “We’re trying to salvage our business this year as well as assist a few other businesses as we navigate these crazy times.”

That involves bringing a vendor, McGrath Clambakes, which has a Class F license that allows a maximum of five hours of continued service each day. Ragged Island doesn’t have a license yet to serve the alcohol itself, Mr. Gray explained.

McGrath’s will purchase Ragged Island’s beer from Allen’s Wine and Spirits, and then serve it under a beer garden tent. The arrangement, he said, will “help recoup some of the losses that our business and McGrath’s is experiencing due to COVID-19.”

Mr. Gray said the proposal is a less-intrusive use than the one previously approved, and the beer garden would have to conform to any state rules regarding bars and restaurants operating during the pandemic.

The plan Ragged Island submitted to the board shows a 40x-60-foot tent for the beer garden with a service bar and 16 tables of six chairs each, for a maximum of 96 people. No more than 200 people would be served per day, according to Mr. Gray. 

“We’ll ask them to make reservations ahead of time,” he said.

There will also be a 10x10-foot prep tent for McGrath’s, which would like to offer food service, as well as seven or eight small pop-up tents scattered further down the sloping farmland for people who’d like to socially distance elsewhere on the property.

“We would not be serving any food under those pop-up tents,” Mr. Gray said.

Abutters speak

Meghan Kissell, whose parents abut the farm at 24 Bristol Ferry Road, disagreed with Mr. Gray’s assessment that the proposal isn’t at odds with the previous approved petition. 

Going from an indoor brewing facility with a taproom to an outdoor beer tent is different, said Ms. Kissell, who noted she’s excited about the farm brewery despite her concerns.

Her parents own property that’s in a direct line of sight with the proposed prep tent and portable toilets that will be brought in, she said. “This is where there seems to be a distinct lack of trees,” Ms. Kissell said. “We’re going from nothing outside, to 15 hours a week in direct sight of the porch.”

Mr. Gray said while he’s open to making slight adjustments to the location of the tents and toilets and also address the Kissells’ concerns over landscaping, he doesn’t have time to submit another amended plan to the zoning board. 

He selected a flat spot for the beer garden, he said, and wanted to keep the prep tent and “the nicer, wedding-style toilets,” close to that area. He estimated the toilets would be at least 100 yards from the Kissells’ property, although Ms. Kissell said she believed it was a shorter distance than that.

Ms. Kissell’s mother, Noreen Kissell, asked about food trucks being allowed on the property. 

Mr. Gray said McGrath’s Clambakes will be the only vendor at this time. “In the future, I can’t say there won’t be other food trucks that we would welcome on the property,” he said.

In voting for the petition, Zoning Board Vice Chairman John Borden said he understood the abutters’ concerns, but he didn’t believe they rose to a level of nuisance or hazard. Ragged Island, he said, “already has approval for agricultural special events and the proposal here is much, much less severe.”

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