LONGMONT -- Jim Martella's roots in craft beer date back further than the 20 years he's lived in Longmont.
Now, the general public may soon have a chance to sample some of the fruits of this homebrewer's labor, which he says his friends have raved about and urged him to take to market.
Martella -- and undoubtedly others -- are exactly the reason the Longmont City Council voted Tuesday night to update city rules to accommodate the burgeoning craft beer industry and its spirited counterparts, microdistilleries and wineries.
Previously, such businesses were allowed only in districts zoned industrial in Longmont. Under the new regulations, microbreweries and the like will be allowed in the city's commercial districts, depending on certain conditions.
The other big change is that no longer is a brewery limited to having a maximum of 10 percent of its space be dedicated to an "accessory use." Under previous rules, that meant a brewery, for example, would be limited to dedicating no more than 10 percent of its space to having a tasting room, or an area it used for merchandise sales. That limit is now gone, according to Erin Fosdick, senior planner with the city.
Now, city planners will look at two things, Fosdick said: Size of an operation, "and the second -- and these do work together -- do they have an on-site tasting room or not?"
Breweries, distilleries and wineries 5,000 square feet or less that have an on-site tasting room will be permitted in all commercial parts of the city, including the central business district downtown. If they do not have an on-site tasting room they can still be located within certain commercial districts of the city, although not downtown, provided they meet certain conditions.
They could also be more than 5,000 square feet in certain commercial areas whether they have an on-site tasting room or not -- again, depending on certain conditions.
City staff consulted with the Longmont City Council and the public on drafting the rule changes, Fosdick said, at the behest of people who see the craft spirits industry as an economic opportunity.
"I've had probably seven inquiries just myself, and that doesn't count any of the other planners," she said. "We're really looking at this as a way to remove barriers to enter into this market, and we're also taking into account the community's concerns."
One of those inquiries came from Martella, who spoke in favor of the proposed changes to both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Longmont City Council.
"They happened to be looking at this while I was looking at (opening a place)," Martella said.
'I can look more seriously now'
Martella is a telecom worker by profession who has been a homebrewer since before he moved to Longmont in 1993. He started becoming more serious about his hobby about six or seven years ago, he said, when he moved into his current house. He took a basement room in the house that is less than 800 square feet and turned it into his own nanobrewery. With a combination of equipment he purchased and some he made himself, he's produced batches of about 10 gallons at a time that he puts into five-gallon kegs. His pilsner, he said, is his specialty, but he claims to have a lot of flavorful tricks up his sleeve.
"I can honestly brew beer here in this shop that matches anything on the market," said Martella, whose background outside telecom includes working at both Left Hand Brewing and the Pumphouse and living all over -- and sampling the beers of -- Europe.
After doing much research on the nanobrewery trend and visiting breweries of all sizes, Martella incorporated earlier this year under the name The Sip Factory. ("Sip," incidentally, along with the obvious reference to his beer, is an acronym in the telecom world that means "session initiated protocol." Insert beer geek joke here.)
He started looking around for a small place to open a small brewery and tasting room but wasn't having any luck in the industrial parts of town, he said. He did find a space in a shopping center that both he and the landlord thought would be a good fit, but before the rules were changed last week that wouldn't have been allowed because the center is in a commercial district.
"I can look a little more seriously now," Martella said, adding that he's not in a huge rush because he does have a full-time job.
"It's a balancing act between this new opportunity and (my) current job," he said, adding that given the high-tech nature of his work, he views brewing beer almost like painting -- an extension of his creative side.
Kimberlee McKee, executive director of the Longmont Downtown Development Authority, said Fosdick made a presentation to her board, which then enthusiastically endorsed the changes to the city code.
"Everyone was totally in favor of it," McKee said. "The one thing that was important was that at a certain point, a tasting room had to be required if you were in the (Central Business District)."
She said that as she and her board see it, someone operating a small brewing operation where people can sample the beer on-site would be a great fit for the LDDA's goal of, as it likes to say, getting more "feet on the street."
"I definitely think that is our hope," McKee said. "I know the example that's often cited is (City Star Brewing) in Berthoud, and what it did for the restaurants in Berthoud."
Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291 or at email@example.com.