Planning commission approves construction of The Eddy beer garden in downtown Reno

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The City of Reno Planning Commission approved the plans for The Eddy beer garden to move forward at their meeting on Wednesday night, but the decision didn't come without lengthy consideration.

The Eddy will fill the empty lot facing the Truckee River that sits at 16 South Sierra Street, adjacent to the Riverside Artist Lofts. The multi-use outdoor space would not only be a beer garden, but also a venue for art and live music and a place for food trucks to park.

The planning commission met to discuss the proposed business' special use permit and hear public comment. They eventually carried the motion to allow construction to move forward with a 6-1 vote. Mark Johnson was the only commissioner who did not agree with the majority.

Kurt Stitser, co-owner of The Eddy, was the first to speak about his proposed business. He said, "this project we feel really conforms or aligns with some of the bullet points or highlights that have come out of Reimagine Reno, including removing blight within our downtown corridor and developing in a different direction with some contemporary and rectilinear development." Stitser and his partner, Phil Buckheart plan to convert shipping containers into the structures that will form the beer garden.

Going into Wednesday's meeting, the planning commission primarily planned to discuss the beer garden's floor area ratio; but the conversation shifted to encompass several concerns addressed during public comment. Several neighborhood residents attended, many of them expressing worry over noise and The Eddy's hours of operation.

The Eddy owners planned to keep their beer garden open until midnight from Thursday to Saturday, but close at 10:00 p.m. the rest of the week; but by the end of the meeting, the planning commission added a condition that The Eddy would only be allowed to stay open until 10:00 p.m. on Thursday nights. They also required that live music would have to be shut off by 9:00 p.m., with the only exception being state and federal holidays.

City of Reno Associate Planner Nathan Gilbert advised the planning commission. He said, "bars are an allowed use by right per our zoning code. They are allowed to operate 24 hours. That being said, they are subject to a privilege license determined by the city council."

Co-owner Kurt Stitser also added that The Eddy would be closed during the winter because of the open air layout. "Our business plan is to be closed from middle of November through middle of March." He said they would decide when to close the beer garden based on weather conditions.

It seemed the chief concern for nearby residents, though, was noise. Jim Galloway lives in The Palladio condominiums. He said, "my major problem is the noise aspect."

Neighbors focused on the fact that The Eddy will be open late, playing ambient music during business hours. Chuck Shapiro, owner of Wild River Grille said, "We're obviously very concerned about what the project might do to our building, what kind of noise impacts it might have to my restaurant, to my livelihood."

The owners of The Eddy also plan to have occasional live entertainment, however that will require a cabaret license, which the Reno City Council will need to approve.

Stitser responded the concerns with data. He said his team performed a sound study, measuring normal ambient noise in the area during a 24-hour period. The co-owner reported the daytime average noise level was about 62 decibels (dB), hitting a peak of about 80 dB. At night, the maximum was about 78 db, but the average was just 58 dB.

Associate Planner Gilbert also weighed in on the noise issue. He said, "there is no maximum db rate that would violate code."

The Eddy's maximum capacity was also a topic of conversation. Stitser said the fire code allows for 585 people to fill the half-acre space at most, but some people who spoke during public comment said they weren't happy about that number.

"I'm concerned about capacity," Artspace representative Greg Handberg said. "I think it's incompatible with residential use." Artspace owns the Riverside Artist Lofts next to the current gravel lot.

Despite their concerns, many people who live near the Riverwalk also expressed support for The Eddy. One woman who moved from San Francisco to Reno compared plans for The Eddy to beer gardens in the Bay Area. "I have experienced the positive aeffect that these type of open air shipping container bars have on communities. The business plan for The Eddy is very similar to The Yard in San Francisco." She said she hopes the beer garden will bring the downtown community together in a positive way.

Another Reno business owner provided his perspective on the beer garden. Kyle Hess said, "this project is not just going to be beneficial for the developers, but for the entire community that wants to come down and enjoy a drink on the riverfront and watch the sunset go down over the hill."

Hess also said because the design for The Eddy uses shipping containers, he believes it could be helpful if the river floods. "It's a very good and highly efficient way to build a low-risk project that opens so much benefit to the entire community."

Although it wasn't discussed heavily, the planning commission walked into their meeting on Wednesday night planning to talk about the beer garden's floor area ratio. That compares a building's total floor area to the area of the piece of land on which it is built. The City of Reno requires businesses to have a ratio of at least 1.0, but plans for The Eddy only have a floor area ratio of 0.13 because of its unique design involving shipping containers.

Associate Planner Gilbert told the commission he cannot think of another project in Reno with a floor area ratio of less than 1.0. He said, "it is a substantial reduction, [but] it's a different concept." Gilbert said the city planner's staff did recommend the commission approve plans for The Eddy.

While people in the community expressed their concerns and support over several issues, the planning commission spent quite some time asking questions about the beer garden's appearance. Before agreeing to grant a special use permit for The Eddy, they required the owners to adjust their plans. The commissioners added a condition, forcing the owners to replace proposed wood fencing with wrought iron fencing along Sierra Street and facing the Truckee River to further incorporate the Riverwalk into the beer garden's design.

Commissioner Mark Johnson said the didn't believe The Eddy fit in with the surrounding architecture, which features mostly high rise buildings. He said, "I look at this project. I like this project. I don't like this project here."

Despite what seemed like commissioners expressing much opposition to the beer garden throughout the meeting, they approved plans for the cargo container park. Johnson was the only commissioner who did not submit an "aye" vote.

The planning commission's vote doesn't mean The Eddy is a done deal, though. Anyone in the public can file an appeal within 10 days of the meeting, which would be sent to the city council for approval.

If all goes as planned for the developers, they hope to have The Eddy up-and-running by this summer.

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CLICK HERE to learn more about plans for The Eddy and to hear from the co-owners.

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