A Pain In the Hops

Shorts Branch Brewery navigates Stafford County’s new zoning laws.

Shorts Branch Brewery navigates Stafford County’s new zoning laws. —Stefanie Gans


Photo courtesy of Shorts Branch Brewing Supply.

In late October, Everett Lovell stood before Stafford County’s Board of Zoning Appeals and received a unanimous vote to go forth with Shorts Branch Brewery. With an approved location, Lovell started the federal paper work to open the brewery—which can last three months—placing Shorts Branch’s opening by March. Like the oldest sibling breaking through parental barriers, Lovell, the first person to apply for a B-2 (urban commercial) license for a microbrewery under Stafford’s new zoning laws, continues to face obstacles.

In September, Stafford approved zoning for breweries planning on brewing 10,000 barrels of beer a year, but the board is capping Lovell’s brewery at 3,000 barrels and he must resubmit an application if he plans to exceed that number.

“I think it will discourage future brewers,” says Lovell about the lower barrelage. “It’s shortsighted … and it’s not very reassuring to have them place restrictions like this.” Another hurdle includes the board requiring 14 additional parking spots for taproom visitors only, even though Aquia Pines Camping Resort—also owned by Lovell and where the brewery will open—can already accommodate 600 tenters, plus RVs and motor homes.   

Adventure Brewing Company also plans an early 2014 debut, but with a different zoning requirement (M1, light industrial). With “nothing on the books for zoning a brewery,” says John Viarella, the co-owner of Adventure spent five months with the board to create a pathway for brewing in Stafford. Cathy L. Vollbrecht, a spokesperson for the county, adds, “Some might say we now have some of the most permissive brewery friendly regulations in the Commonwealth.” Well, maybe for certain zoning.

Shorts Branch Brewery will open within Shorts Branch Brewing Supply, housed in the camp store at Aquia Pines. The beers, says Lovell, will be “pretty standard stuff,” such as American ales, ambers, porters, reds and stouts, the last of which Lovell himself has been perfecting; He drinks stouts year-round.

Lovell brewed recreationally for over two years but hired a professional brewer. The taproom, currently in construction, will offer six draft beers and growler and keg fills. In a nod to local, Shorts Branch beers will use centennial and cascade hops grown in Stafford by Brad Erickson, whom Lovell met through the Stafford Brewers Club.

For Shorts Branch to launch, Lovell must persevere through the arduous paperwork. “Now I’m gonna have to deal more with the Stafford County staff about them telling me what my facility will have to look like, and they have absolutely no idea. And do I want to bother? Or do I want to close my campground business and go away?” Lovell pauses, still angry from the prior night’s appeals meeting. But he hesitates for less than a second: “I don’t think I want to do that.”

(January 2014)