The metro area’s escalating price for real estate is deepening a fault line between two rapidly growing sectors in Colorado: craft brewing and charter schools.
With both experiencing rising popularity — there were 238 charter schools in Colorado this year and about 350 operating breweries — affordable sites in which to serve up either suds or social studies are getting harder to find. And with schools protected by state law with a 500-foot buffer from the closest liquor license holder, municipalities have found themselves stepping in to break the tension and encourage co-existence.
On Tuesday, Castle Rock became the latest community to tackle the issue, eyeing an end to the setback in its commercial- and industrial-zoned areas. The council asked staff members to bring back an ordinance early next year that would codify the new rules.
“When you’re in a hot economy, the costs associated with new buildings are super expensive,” said Frank Gray, president of the Castle Rock Economic Development Corporation. “And schools looking to get off the ground are looking for lower-cost opportunities.”
That means schools — largely Colorado’s fast-multiplying charter schools — have turned to parts of town they would have never considered a decade ago.
“No one ever anticipated that schools would locate in industrial areas,” Gray said. “And we don’t want to push brewpubs and distilleries out of industrial areas just because schools want to come in.”
He cast it as a property-rights issue for landlords who might want to lease a space to a brewpub or to a restaurant specializing in whiskey, only to find their ability to do so quashed by a newly established school in their midst.
One answer, Gray said, is allowing the two uses to exist side by side in the town’s commercial districts. For Castle Rock, that means keeping a swath along South Wilcox and South Perry streets just south of the popular downtown district fertile for new restaurants and breweries even as a church contemplates opening a school there.
“We have to figure out how to get them to interact with each other,” Gray said. “How do we mesh cool restaurants with schools?”
It’s a question that drove Parker to exercise its home-rule powers and do away with the 500-foot buffer this year.
“As these charter schools began proliferating in our commercial areas, they would sterilize the retail uses in the area,” said Matt Carlson, business recruitment manager for the fast-growing town of more than 50,000. “If you take out these areas as potential growth areas, you limit your ability to compete in that market.”
Denver also tossed out the setback nearly five years ago. Derek Woodbury, spokesman for the city’s Office of Economic Development, said “place-making in neighborhoods is very important to creating vibrant communities.”
And a 500-foot envelope around every school in Denver threatened to hinder the city’s ability to attract the kind of neighborhood gathering spots it wants.
“It allows for thoughtful commercial redevelopment to occur,” Woodbury said.
So far, Denver hasn’t received complaints from parents that proximity of schools to establishments with liquor licenses is having a negative effect on their children, he said.
The tension between alcohol and schools in Colorado isn’t likely to go away soon. The Colorado Department of Education said there were 83,478 charter school students in the state during the 2011-12 school year. This academic year, that number had grown to 114,694 students.
Meanwhile, the number of breweries jumped from approximately 300 at the end of 2016 to about 350 today, according to the Colorado Brewers Guild.
“Breweries are also having a hard time finding affordable space to set up their businesses,” the guild’s operations director, Steve Kurowski, said. “It looks like Castle Rock is getting ahead of the issue.”
Gray said he’d rather see a compromise on the issue in Castle Rock sooner than later.
“We haven’t had a train wreck yet, but we can see one coming,” he said. “These two things are in conflict.”