ELLSWORTH — Fogtown Brewing Co. opened its doors in the winter of 2018 to much fanfare: it was the city’s first and only working brewery, and its growth has been rapid, drawing customers from around Maine.
But perhaps it’s been a little too rapid, said neighbors of the Pine Street facility at a City Council meeting on Monday evening.
“I wish you every success,” said Jan Thompson, who owns a house on Elm Street, which runs directly across from Fogtown’s patio. “But you’ve overwhelmed Elm Street.”
Fogtown was on the Monday meeting agenda for renewal of its liquor license. A public hearing is required for all liquor and victualer license hearings, but most pass without any comment.
Not so on Monday.
The hearing lasted more than an hour, during which a dozen residents and several city officials gave input to councilors considering the license renewal.
Fogtown operates a taproom and regularly hosts live performances.
“The noise — mercy. It’s very loud, even inside with the windows closed,” Thompson said.
“I have had people sleeping in their cars,” she continued.
“It’s the only thing not residential right around there,” Thompson said. “I miss our quiet street. That’s why I bought the house here.”
Most of those who spoke had similar concerns: the bands and equipment are noisy, and patrons are parking on Elm Street and occasionally sleeping in their cars.
“I’m not against the businesses being successful, it’s great that businesses are successful,” said Patti Kirby, who owns a house next door. “But it seems as though the residents in the area aren’t being given the same representation.”
Nearly all who raised concerns also praised owners Jon Stein and Ian Heyse for their success and community involvement.
“I’m very happy they’re doing well, I think it’s fantastic,” said David Nichols, a homeowner on Elm Street. But “it’s a pain to the neighborhood; the noise has been out of control.”
Nichols continued: “Elm Street is commercially zoned, I know that. But when they first went into the establishment we were under the impression that it was just going to be beer sold there, but they’ve expanded.”
But not all residents of the area said the noise was bothersome.
“I’m not happy to hear that it’s become difficult for a lot of my neighbors,” said Beth Fendl, who owns a home on Franklin Street. “I hear the bands down at Harbor Park; I hear my neighbors on either side of me have kids in garage bands. I do hear Fogtown. None of that is concerning to me. It’s sort of part of the neighborhood.”
Owner Jon Stein said staff had been working to mitigate concerns as soon as they were made aware of them.
“When they come up we address them quickly and as best as we can. We’ve only heard these neighbors’ complaints as of two weeks ago,” Stein said.
“We will continue to work with the city.”
Stein acknowledged that “parking has been a bit of a roller coaster” but said the company had since made arrangements for overflow parking in nearby lots.
“For the past year we’ve been asking for no parking signs ourselves,” said Stein, to cut down on having bartenders run out and ask people to move cars. “It’s beyond our capacity to really handle the parking on a city street.”
Addressing the noise issue, Stein said he had built an enclosure around a compressor out back that had been the target of complaints and would add more noise insulation around it if necessary.
As for live music, said Stein: “We have bands on average once per week, on the weekends. We have not stopped music since the noise complaints. We’ve kept the doors closed and faced the speakers in.”
City officials said the brewery is in compliance with its licensing requirements and has been very responsive when complaints have come up.
“I think their success has kind of overwhelmed all of us,” said Code Enforcement Officer Dwight Tilton.
“It kind of boomed in the last year. Unfortunately a lot of these complaints we never got until this week, until tonight.”
Ellsworth Police Department Chief Glenn Moshier said police had been called for parking issues and that the Fogtown owners have “gone the extra mile and tried to identify their patrons and get them to go out and move vehicles.”
Moshier said the department has “strictly adhered to the 10 p.m. limit for excessive noise,” and has visited establishments around the city as well as apartment buildings and houses to ask residents to turn down the volume.
“People interpret that ordinance differently,” said Moshier, and it’s up to the officer to determine whether or not the noise is excessive.
If his officers had been called to Fogtown for excessive noise, said Moshier, “I’m 100 percent confident that had we had complaints and responded to Fogtown and spoken to the owners they would be responsive because they’ve been responsive every other time that we’ve had to respond for parking issues.”
Moshier said complaints regarding any issues at Fogtown had been “very few.”
The chief also noted that “We have never, not one time, been to Fogtown for any sort of illegal activity, any sort of fights, any sort of disorderly conduct, anything like that. To say that about an establishment that’s serving alcohol and very little food, I think that, you know, speaks to the type of client that they attract to our community.”
After more than an hour of discussion, city councilors unanimously approved a renewal of Fogtown’s license, with one condition: that they continue to work with neighbors to deal with any issues that arise.
“That does not mean that we didn’t listen,” said Chairman Marc Blanchette.
“This was a tough decision for me. I could have really gone either way … you guys deserve a quiet neighborhood to live in and to enjoy.”