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Half Acre Meets New Bowmanville Neighbors, Says 'We Won't Be Jerks'

 Half Acre is moving to Bowmanville, and asking its new neighbors to approve a zoning change that would allow the brewery to add a restaurant and outdoor seating.
Half Acre's Expansion Plans
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BOWMANVILLE — It was deja vu for Half Acre founder Gabriel Magliaro as he stood before a group of Bowmanville residents Tuesday night, outlining his plans to open a brewery in the neighborhood.

Six years ago, a similar scene played out in North Center where "we explained ... we weren't going to be jerks," Magliaro told the standing-room-only crowd assembled at Rogers Park Montessori School.

His job on Tuesday was much the same: to convince the folks of Bowmanville that Half Acre's move into a 60,000-square-foot building at 2050 W. Balmoral St. — the former Duray Fluorescent site — wouldn't be a detriment to their community.

Patty Wetli joins DNAinfo Radio to chat about Half Acre's plans.

Half Acre announced in March that it would shift its offices and the majority of its brewing operation a mile and a half north, having outgrown capacity at its Lincoln Avenue home in North Center. The goal, according to Magliaro, is to increase production from the current 14,000 barrels a year to 30,000 barrels. (For reference, "craft brewing" is considered anything less than 6 million barrels annually, he said.)

Though Half Acre's new location is zoned for manufacturing, the subject of Tuesday's community meeting was the company's request for a zoning change that would accommodate not only brewing, but also allow for a taproom, restaurant and outdoor beer garden.

"Craft brewing is about intimacy between the brewer and consumer. That experience is essential," Magliaro said. "Being a neighborhood brewery is about knowing the people who are consuming your beer and having that direct exchange."

A number of attendees offered their wholehearted support for the venture — "You had me at beer" being a common sentiment.

"We want people who are engaged in the neighborhood. These are family guys," said resident Jonathan Novy. "It's only good for the neighborhood to have growing businesses."

But others expressed concerns about an increase in truck traffic and noise, as well as a stress on street parking.

Addressing questions point by point, Magliaro said that Half Acre is a relatively small operation, with most of its supplies arriving via 25-foot box trucks as opposed to tractor-trailers.

Brewing itself is a nearly silent process, he said. As for parking, the site's lot has room for 70 cars, more than enough for Half Acre's 40 employees, said Magliaro, adding the majority of the workers bike to work.

"This building was for sale — anything could have moved there," Magliaro said. "As an industrial producer, it doesn't get much better than a craft brewer."

Other neighbors raised the issue of a taproom and beer garden attracting drunk, unruly patrons.

"It will be like Addison and the Cubs," said one resident. "They trashed the area."

Magliaro attempted to reassure residents that wouldn't be the case, saying bad behavior was more of a threat to the brewery than the neighborhood.

"I have everything tied up in this," he said. "We're a business that does well by existing positively."

Half Acre's Lincoln Avenue brewery and taproom peacefully coexists "in the midst of a vibrant community," he said. "We've had zero issues."

"I've taken my 5- and 7-year-old into Half Acre on Lincoln," said Novy. "It's not a rowdy crowd."

Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th) told constituents he had consulted Ald. Ameya Pawar and former Ald. Gene Schulter, both of whom have dealt with Half Acre's operation in the 47th Ward, and the brewer received "high marks."

"They have helped put that part of the 47th Ward on the map," said O'Connor. "This could be more of an amenity for our community if we extend ourselves a little bit. ... Something like this could make Bowmanville famous."

Not everyone viewed that as a positive.

Neighbor Sharon McGill said she's fine with Half Acre's production plans — "Make all the beer and ship all the beer you want" — but it's the restaurant and beer garden and the resulting influx of consumers she opposes.

Armed with a printout of a photo of a long line of people outside Half Acre on Saturday, as patrons queued up for a tour of the Lincoln Avenue brewery, McGill said, "I don't want this across the street from my house. I didn't buy into that.... Then it's not this quiet neighborhood."

Magliaro countered that the Bowmanville building is substantially larger than Half Acre's North Center location.

"The reason that line exists is we can't fit people" into the Lincoln Avenue location while they wait, he said. "A line isn't an issue for this building."

Ultimately, Magliaro asked Bowmanville residents to look at Half Acre's track record in North Center.

"All it comes down to is just being decent. If we're abrasive, we're not making good choices," he said. "We have to do this well or we're sunk as a business."

Regardless of whether the zoning change is approved, Half Acre aims to begin brewing in Bowmanville by the end of October. If given the OK for the taproom and restaurant, those could open by spring 2015, Magliaro said.

The North Center brewery will continue to make small batches of beer — 3,000 to 4,000 barrels — and the taproom will expand, he said.

Ald. O'Connor said he will continue to gather community feedback on Half Acre's plan before making a decision about the zoning change. Residents can share their support or concerns with his office via email at ward40@cityofchicago.org. The Bowmanville Community Organization is also collecting comments via planning@bcochicago.org.