UPDATED: Fireworks, Explore Festival Events Returning To Berlin

BERLIN – Town officials approved plans for a handful of special events at Burley Oak Brewing Company despite concern over a permitting issue that was resolved the next day.

The Berlin Town Council approved the brewery’s plans for three Explore Berlin Festival dates as well as the July 3 fireworks as long as Burley Oak addressed permitting issues identified by the town’s planning and zoning department. According to town staff, Burley Oak employees were doing work without a permit Monday.

“A permitting issue is something that needs to be squared away so nobody can say we’re playing favorites,” Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said.

Bryan Brushmiller, owner of Burley Oak, approached the council Monday seeking approval for festival dates on April 22, May 13 and June 10 as well as permission to host festivities during Berlin’s July 3 fireworks display. Brushmiller said the Explore Berlin Festival was the same event the brewery had hosted in the past. On each of the festival dates, April 22, May 13 and June 10, he said he wanted to cordon off his parking lot from noon to 8 p.m. to offer beer and live music outside Burley Oak. He said downtown merchants would be invited to set up tables to sell their wares during the events, each of which typically attracts 350-400 people.

“We have a large tourism that likes to take beer vacations,” he said. “Berlin gets a lot of that.”

As for July 3, Brushmiller said that last year’s municipal fireworks show at Berlin Falls Park had been such a success he wanted to make sure it happened again.

“We have decided it’s so important to have it there and make it happen again we’re going to support the full cost of the event,” he said, adding that it would cost Burley Oak $10,000.

Williams said he’d heard lots of compliments regarding last year’s fireworks show.

“It brings some excitement and awareness to a part of town that’s been behind for 150 years,” he said.

Carol Rose, a Berlin resident and chair of the town’s historic district commission, told the council she was concerned about the beer festival dates.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I’m not so sure we need three of them.”

Rose said a recent meeting of town staff and merchants to address the array of special events in town had revealed that many people thought there were too many alcohol related events in Berlin.

“The one thing everybody agreed upon was that we needed more family friendly events and there was too much emphasis on events with alcohol,” she said.

Rose said she also didn’t think the people attending the festival at Burley Oak would visit Berlin’s downtown shops.

Nicky Chavis, general manager of Burley Oak, said attendees were likely to visit the Main Street area to shop and eat before the brewery’s events.

“A lot of people don’t like to eat festival food,” she said.

Chavis added that none of the brewery’s past events had resulted in “people being out of line.” Brushmiller agreed.

“These 350 people would not be here if it wasn’t for the festival,” he said.

Jeff Fleetwood, the town’s managing director, advised the council that Carolyn Duffy, the town’s permit coordinator, had reported that Burley Oak did not have a permit for building work that was being done on site. Duffy was not present at Monday’s council meeting.

“We had a situation today where permits weren’t there,” Fleetwood said. “It was discovered they didn’t have a permit for what was happening. The standing practice has been that when an entity comes to the mayor and council for an event we verify all licenses are paid and there’s no outstanding issues.”

Brushmiller said the permit in question had nothing to do with the events proposed and that there really wasn’t an issue. He said that while the brewery was headed for an “expansion phase” the work being done was simply to address damaged siding that was hanging off the building.

“Carolyn made it clear interior framing was being done,” Fleetwood said.

Councilman Zack Tyndall praised Burley Oak’s impact on Berlin but said it was common practice for outstanding bills to be paid in advance of special event approval.

“What we’re a little leery on is there’s no precedent on accepting anything for a business unless everything’s good to go,” he said.

Brushmiller said that was usually in reference to items such as tax bills. He said he simply hadn’t been aware that he needed a repair permit.

While Tyndall made a motion to approve the events contingent on Brushmiller acquiring the necessary permit from the planning and zoning office, Councilman Elroy Brittingham said he still had questions.

“From what I understand the planning and zoning office approached your business and there was construction going on illegally,” Brittingham said. “That’s what I need addressed.”

Brushmiller said nothing was being illegally done.

“When they approached anybody working, there was no construction being done,” he said. “They were actually up front cleaning up. So they were illegally cleaning things up? I’d say yes you’re correct. Any type of construction, I mean we are very understanding that we need a permit.”

Fleetwood referenced Duffy’s report that interior framing had been underway inside the brewery.

“That is incorrect,” Brushmiller said. “There is no framing being done. There is no construction.”

Councilman Thom Gulyas told Brushmiller that town leaders relied on town staff.

“We as a board have to back our department heads 100 percent,” Gulyas said. “If there is  an issue, and I’m not saying this one is an issue, but if there is an issue where the department head is giving us incorrect information we as a board will address that.”

He said that as long as Brushmiller simply got the permit required by the planning department his events could go on.

“As long as you get that permit, there’s not going to be a problem,” he said.

Williams agreed.

“This is a good reminder to folks that a community works when everybody works together,” he said.

The council voted 4-0, with Dean Burrell absent, to approve Tyndall’s motion to approve Burley Oak’s events as long as any necessary permits were received by the planning and zoning department.

Brushmiller later said the requisite permits were applied for at Town Hall first thingTuesday morning and secured Wednesday.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.