If you visit Young Veterans Brewing Company you’ll find a group of loyal beer drinkers sipping pints of Pineapple Grenade Hefeweizen and buying growlers of Jet Noise Double IPA.
You won’t find people playing games, like checkers and chess. You won’t see anyone sitting outside enjoying a cigar or tossing bean bags during a game of cornhole. You won’t smell hot pizza being sold from local food trucks or hear an acoustic guitarist strumming from a corner of the newly expanded taproom.
You would have in the past, but you won’t now.
Restrictive use easement controls 219 acres
Young Veterans Brewing Company owners and Army veterans Thomas Wilder and Neil McCanon say they can’t allow games, live music, food trucks or televisions at their brewery, located at 2505 Horse Pasture Road.
If they do, they will likely be taken to federal court by the United States Navy.
The reason? A restrictive use easement bought by the United States for $900,000 in June 1983. The easement limits activities allowed on about 219 acres of land near Naval Air Station Oceana, according to documents filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.
Wilder said the rules were originally created to control the number of people near the base who might be hurt if a jet crashed; however, he believes the Navy is interpreting the decades-old easement too broadly and in a way that is hurting his business.
“This is the luxury they have as the Navy easement holders. They can interpret the wording any way they see fit,” Wilder said.
Solvable problem turns into major detriment
Young Veterans Brewing Company enjoyed nearly three years of beers, bands and games before their troubles began.
Wilder and McCanon had worked with the Navy in 2012 when they originally opened the brewery to make sure that they were in compliance with the easement. Navy spokeswoman Jennifer Colaizzi said that at that time the brewers requested to “engage in the brewing of beer and auxiliary sales of the manufactured product” which are activities allowed under the easement.
“It was a really easy process,” Wilder added. “They signed off on that thing with flying colors.”
In 2015 they had to work with the Navy again as they applied for a conditional use permit through Virginia Beach to expand their taproom.
The brewers knew the Navy’s rules, which classify Young Veterans as a manufacturer and allows the company to use 10 percent of the gross building square footage as retail space.
The plan was to build an 800 square-foot taproom — just at the 10 percent mark for the 8,000 square feet the brewers already own or rent.
What the brewers didn’t foresee was that the Navy would consider their bathroom as retail space, bringing their total taproom to over 1,000 square feet, according to a Sept. 26 letter sent to the brewery by U.S. Navy Captain R. J. Meadows.
“Bathrooms are areas ‘open to the public’ that are subject to the 10 percent limitation,” Colaizzi wrote.
Navy easement real estate agents visited the brewery to measure the space. After a few conversations with the brewers, the Navy agreed to give them a three-year grace period to buy or rent enough space inside the industrial park so that their taproom would not exceed the 10 percent rule. In return, the brewers agreed to block off areas of their taproom to limit customer access, Wilder said.
“They informed us they’ve been watching us for the last three or four years, and they’d seen what we’d been doing and known, but they hadn’t enforced their rules on us,” Wilder said. “We did gymnastics to make sure this would work out, and we were 100 percent positive that this was exactly what the Navy was going to approve until they came into the brewery.”
Rules and regulations ban fun and games
With the space issue solved, Young Veterans ran into a new problem that they say has been detrimental to the brewery’s business model: the Navy began enforcing other rules not clearly stated in the easement, Wilder said.
With three years behind them and $1.5 million invested in Young Veterans, Wilder and McCanon have learned that activities like checkers, chess and cornhole might threaten the future of their business.
The Navy has prohibited the brewers from allowing games, television, food trucks and live music at the brewery. If they do, the brewery will be considered out of compliance with the easement and the Navy will likely seek litigation, according to the Sept. 26 letter.
“Recreational activities are not permitted on this property under the restrictive use easement,” Colaizzi wrote.
These rules come from a section of the easement that prohibits recreational or amusement facilities, “including but not limited to movie houses, theaters, athletic clubs,” court documents state.
“Other than the sale of beer manufactured onsite and/or the sale of company branded merchandise, you will not allow the property to be used for any recreational or amusement purposes or activities,” the Sept. 26 letter states.
“This includes, but is not limited to, consumption of any food aside from finger foods such as pretzels or peanuts provided gratis by Young Veterans, any live and/or televised entertainment, outdoor games or other activities… Failure to adhere to these conditions will revoke the grace period immediately,” according to the letter.
While these rules may seem like small inconveniences, Wilder said they make it extremely hard for Young Veterans Brewing Company to compete with other Hampton Roads brewers who are allowed to have games, festivals, food trucks, outdoor seating and live music.
“The Navy wants to prevent us from doing anything that is fun or entertaining to prevent people from hanging out in our taproom in an event that a jet crashes and kills everybody,” Wilder said.
“They were concerned that we had music playing at all,” he added. “Having Pandora playing in the background was a concern for them.”
When asked by a Southside Daily reporter if the Navy is trying to discourage patrons from spending extended periods of time at the brewery, Colaizzi said, “The U.S. Navy’s interest is enforcing the terms of the restrictive use easement as written.”
Brewery will comply, but won’t stop fun
Wilder said although he doesn’t agree with the Navy’s strict interpretation of the easement, he and McCanon intend to comply with the rules to protect their business.
They will not hire musicians to perform at the brewery or televise football games. They won’t invite food trucks like Bodacious Pizza into their parking lot and they will tell patrons the back area of the business is off limits to corn hole and cigars.
What they won’t do, Wilder said, is throw out a patron who decides to bring in their own food, deck of cards or games.
“This is all stuff that happens in every taproom you go into.”
Mayfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.