New Craft Brewery Facing Contention From Nearby Churches Claiming It Will Bring “Crime And Violence”

RealClear Staff

            

     Ocoee, Florida, commissioners’ time was taken for nearly two hours when listening to residents vehemently ramble on about their opposition to a waiver request entailing the location of a forthcoming microbrewery in downtown Ocoee.

[Photo: Orlando Sentinel]

Toll Road Brewery plans on popping up at the corner of McKey Street & Cumberland Avenue on August 1, 2017 and was approved with the special waver—a 4-1 vote. This city-approved waiver will allow the brewery to not be far from four churches and mosques. However, the community has a code prohibiting proprietors to sell alcoholic or intoxicating beverages within 1,000 feet of a church and/or school—the brewery’s still being built.

But locals are balking that this craft-beer building could cause a crime wave with violence—and the potential, parking issues it could create. (Where will folks find a place to park...??)

 “If this business must come, let it not come in our backyard where it will be encroaching on us, and we’re being told our opinions don’t matter,” First Baptist Church of Ocoee pastor’s wife, Angela Harris, said. “I’m asking you to please uphold the ordinances of the city.”

However, the forthcoming foam factory does have some supporters—four residents (including restaurant-owner Juan Riose). The pro-brewery people pointed out Ocoee needing the business to boost tax revenue, burgeon more business, and accentuate downtown Ocoee, where folks will want to frequent and spend money. The support has seen some great points:

“In terms of churches being nearby, I don’t understand why that’s an issue. ... A business like this should not have to run based on what a group wants them to. This is a business that will be paying taxes, and they should be able to run their business the way they want. ... This is a great thing for Ocoee, and I hope you strongly consider bringing this here to make sure that Ocoee can prosper and move forward.”

[First Baptist Church of Ocoee, where Angela & Bob Harris stand in opposition | Source: FBCOcoee.com]

Additionally, it’s not like Toll Road Brewery’s big wigs are outsiders. The microbrewery management, Duane Morin, David Strickland and Russ Balazs, are Ocoee locals. They’re also home brewers who’ve been making DIY mash and wowing craft-beer festivals with their wares for about 12 years. They’ve now decided to share the love and lucrativeness with downtown Ocoee, as the area’s undergoing revitalization plans.

Their early steps in securing the business are being cradled in controversy, but they confidently counter the claims of creating crime and violence by citing statistics. This research showed 47 percent of the US craft-brewery market is made possible by college-educated millennials. The Toll Road trio also assured their brewery will charge a premium for their pours and put a strict rule on closing early.

“We are not a bar,” Morin said, during public comment in the standing-room-only commission chambers. “We do not serve alcohol. We are not open until 2 o’clock in the morning. ... It’s a premium product at a premium price. There are no happy hours. There are no $2 drinks; it’s typically $6 (or more).”

[Toll Road's trio at the Ocoee Commission Chambers | Source: Toll Road Brewery Twitter]

Morin emphasized their hours and premium prices are to negate negative people from coming to the craft brewery. Additionally, he offered facts on the huge, economic incentive and social-aspect benefits craft breweries often add to small towns.

“You know, I understand their concerns,” Morin said. “But like I said in the meeting, if anybody [who] had those concerns were to take 10 minutes of their time to Google the impact of a craft brewery on a community or if a craft brewery increases crime, they will find there’s no evidence to back it up.”

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