VASSALBORO: Sidereal Farm approved for expansion with conditions

by Mary Grow

After a long discussion at their June 4 meeting, Vassalboro select board members unanimously approved all but one piece of an expansion plan for Sidereal Farm Brewery, at 772 Cross Hill Road. They added two conditions to the approval, based on neighbors’ concerns.

Brewery owner James D’Angelo presented a nine-item plan. The ninth part, his plan to apply for a state restaurant license, is probably not a planning board issue; the board did not act on it.

Planning Board chairman Virginia Brackett explained that Sidereal’s current state license allows preparing food outdoors only; a Department of Health and Human Services restaurant license would allow an indoor kitchen. DHS will want input from “municipal officers,” a term Brackett thinks means select board members.

D’Angelo said the first four parts of his plan involve the entrance road off Cross Hill Road. First, he said, he already has approval from the E911 emergency numbering agency to have the road named Sidereal Way, so customers will stop mistakenly turning into nearby Glidden Lane.

He asked to extend the road; to add a cul de sac to provide parking and space for recreational vehicles to turn around; and to install downward-facing LED lights.

One of the planning board conditions is that parking be prohibited along the road. Board members also proposed a traffic pattern at the end designed to minimize headlights shining toward neighbors’ houses. D’Angelo was receptive to the idea.

Board and audience members and D’Angelo had a long discussion about additional screening to block headlights. After much consultation over maps, they agreed on the second condition, a 100-foot-long, six-foot-high cedar fence in a specified place, with trees planted 10 feet apart on the inside.

Once the trees grow enough to provide screening, D’Angelo is allowed to remove the fence.

Discussion covered the exact location of the screening; whether noise and light studies D’Angelo had done were adequate; and what kinds of trees grow best in different soils and how soon they should be big enough to be a buffer.

At the brewery building, D’Angelo proposed relocating a fire pit and bocce court from the front to the rear; extending the outdoor cooking area and adding a roof and curtains so it can be used in the winter; and using one bay in a nearby garage to store equipment used in the business.

His request to extend operating hours generated another discussion. Currently, the brewery is open from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m., Sunday.

D’Angelo asked to stay open until 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday. Board member Marianne Stevens thought the extension “as little unfair to the neighbors.” When fellow board member Dan Bradstreet interpreted the new hours as taking effect after the restaurant opens, Stevens proposed delaying a decision until that happens.

Brackett replied that longer hours would be necessary for a restaurant to be commercially viable. She disagreed when neighbor Peter Soule suggested the restaurant was getting preferential treatment.

Since Vassalboro has no zoning, Brackett said, commercial establishments can be located anywhere, and the planning board must in each case balance abutters’ needs with the needs of the business.
Board members unanimously approved the extended hours. The 11 p.m. deadline to have Sidereal’s lights off will remain.

In response to neighbors’ comments about a 24-hour light in the top of the building, D’Angelo said he will talk with employees about installing a timer that will darken the entire brewery at 11 p.m.

Neighbors Richard and Terry Dawson and Peter and MaryBeth Soule presented two main issues. First, they said, their peace and privacy have been lost, with traffic, noise, lights that shine into their houses and brewery customers who can, and do, watch them.

Second, D’Angelo failed to comply with buffering requirements on his original permit, granted in 2019. Soule said a town official, whom he did not further identify, agreed a year ago that what D’Angelo had done was inadequate.

Dawson and Soule asked what guarantee they have that this year’s buffer requirement will be met promptly and adequately.

D’Angelo offered two replies. He agreed to comply with “reasonable” planning board requirements, and did not object to any part of the board’s decision.

He defended Sidereal Farm Brewery as a valuable asset to Vassalboro. The business has a $280,000 payroll and five full-time and five part-time employees; it uses local food and local contractors and supports local charities, he said.

Before taking up the Sidereal Farm Brewery application, planning board members unanimously approved Robert and Clara Dyason’s application to add a covered porch to their existing building at 72 Branstrom Road, in the Three Mile Pond shoreland zone. The addition will be on the side away from the water, Robert Dyason said.

The next regular Vassalboro Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, July 2.


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