While Springfield now enjoys the presence of two great local breweries, it took a lengthy fight for them to be allowed.
Main and Six Brewing Company was proposed in the summer of 2016 for a vacant storefront, and not long after that, Hyperion Brewing Co. was announced just down the street.
But when the plans for Main and Six came up for review, the brewery ran into some unexpected trouble.
As part of the process to open their brewery, the owners of Main and Six had to obtain a waiver to allow them to operate within a certain distance of a church or school.
Specifically, it needed a waiver of a provision in the city’s code of ordinances (Chapter 656, Section 805) that states, “There shall be not less than 1,500 feet from an established school or church for the on-premises consumption of alcoholic beverages, not in conjunction with the service of food, except as specifically provided herein.”
In many parts of Jacksonville, and certainly in Springfield, just about any commercial building is within 1,500 feet of a church or school. That means that obtaining a waiver from the city’s Land Use and Zoning committee is a regular part of the approval process for any new brewery – or bar, for that matter.
The provision itself is a product of antiquated priorities, as well as influence from church groups who believe alcohol consumption promotes sinful behavior. Usually, applications for a waiver are granted without any problem.
But it allows the opportunity for special interest groups to occasionally pick a battle they think they can win – no matter what effect it might have on the growth of a business or a community.
In the case of Main and Six, local church groups were able to find three churches that the owners had failed to notify, forcing it back to committee on a technicality even after it had been approved. And that second LUZ hearing brought well over a hundred citizens out in support of the project.
The only two who spoke in opposition were church leaders who did not live or work in Springfield.
Of course, Main and Six did get approved, as did Hyperion – but if the community had not come out so strongly in support of the project, who’s to say what would have happened.
The distance provision in the code of ordinances is one that the city needs to consider revisiting, as the same issue will continue to be brought up in a city dense with churches and schools.
There’s no reason that churches can’t coexist peacefully with neighboring projects that involve alcohol. As multiple residents pointed out during Tuesday’s hearing, there are plenty of examples of cities densely packed with churches that coexist peacefully with bars and breweries.
Jacksonville has a large church-going population, but churchgoers in Jax are reasonable people who have no issue with breweries or bars. The opposition to projects like this represents an extremely small and extreme portion of the city’s religious population – a portion that largely seems stuck in the past.
But that opposition isn’t going away, and one day an important project could be chased away based on a rule that shouldn’t exist.
The cycle will continue, with the same debates and arguments, for future projects that raise objections among a small but vocal group. At some point the city must take a look at this and wonder if it’s worth chasing away potential development – and worth it to risk killing our budding brewery scene – just to appease that small group.