There’s a vacant lot on the corner of K and 24th streets that’s overgrown with weeds and fenced off to keep homeless people from camping. The Golden Bear neighbors it to the right, and Ancient Future sits across the street in a former church.
It’s been empty for more than 10 years, but a local business owner is hoping to change that by bringing another German-style pub to Midtown.
Dubbed "Der BierGarten," the project has been in the works for two years, but hasn’t yet received the final OK from the city. That may change as early as next week, however, as Design Director Greg Taylor is set to decide whether approve the latest plans at a hearing on Thursday, March 21. While initially wary, the Midtown Neighborhood Association has now lent its support to the proposal.
"When we were first starting this project, there was no LowBrau in Sacramento," said Sean Derfield, owner of Old Sacramento’s River City Saloon. "I definitely think we can add another great element – there will now be two great German restaurants in the Midtown area."
Derfield’s vision is to create an open-air restaurant and beer garden, serving only imported German and Belgian beer, and authentic, traditional food. It will include the use of cargo containers – one to house restrooms, and the other to house the kitchen – as well as solar power for nighttime lighting, and water reclamation to reuse rainwater for plants. There will be plenty of outdoor seating, including long, traditional BierGarten tables from Germany, and a bicycle rack so that patrons don’t have to store their transportation on the sidewalks.
The concept is to build something that’s easily replaceable, Derfield said, so that in five years’ time, the landlord can replace it with a building that better suits the area at the end of the lease. And by their nature, cargo containers are very mobile.
"I felt that the rather novel approach of using shipping containers, and doing it as an outdoor venue was a real interesting way to use a piece of land, rather than having a fenced in, vacant lot, as a way of having a part-time, more temporal use," said Matt Piner, vice chairman of the Midtown Neighborhood Association.
And while developing this vacant lot has the support of several community organizations, the concept wasn’t warmly received by all when first proposed.
"Some neighbors were caught by surprise and didn’t know this project was going on," Derfield said.
Though the property is commercially-zoned, it’s in a mixed-used neighborhood, with surrounding businesses and residences. The city’s planning and design commission rejected the original design plans, and the Midtown Neighborhood Association initially had concerns over another business coming in that serves alcohol, Derfield said.
“We were concerned about late night alcohol sales and entertainment, as we already have a recognized (by state ABC and SacPD) over concentration of alcohol licenses in the Central City,” former MNA chairwoman Vivian Gerlach stated in an email.
Also because it’s an outdoor venue, noise can’t be contained within walls, so hours of operation were a concern, said Piner.
Those hours are as follows*
• 10 a.m to 9 p.m. on weekdays
• 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends and holidays
* These are the hours for the first year of operation, after that, Derfield hopes to add on an hour to each set of hours
Derfield was forthcoming with his plans, Piner said, and isn’t seeking an entertainment permit.
And while Der BierGarten has the MNA’s support, there are people not affiliated with them who’ve come out against the project, Gerlach said. “They remain concerned about hours, noise and the fact that it is open air instead of closed,” she wrote. “To me, Sean has satisfied most, if not all of our concerns, but I understand some neighbors are still not happy.”
Derfield has also garnered the support of the the Midtown Business Association and the Old Sacramento Business Association, of which he’s a member.
"Derfield’s plan to offer authentic and seasonal beers, along with traditional German food is a perfect match with the demographic of residents and visiting customers who enjoy Midtown as a destination for shopping, dining and entertainment," MBA Executive Director Elizabeth Studebaker wrote in a letter of support.
The Old Sacramento Business Association also chimed in to support Derfield’s plans. "Sean is a savvy, civic-minded business owner who recognizes that the reputation of his business and the neighborhood are intricately intertwined," OSBA Business District Manager Chris McSwain wrote.
While the MNA had concerns at first, Piner said "We don’t want to be obstructionists." He went on to say many neighbors in Midtown have concerns over noise, which is usually brought on by intoxicated people getting drunk at any of the area’s watering holes.
"It’s become a real party scene, and it’s affected the residents," Piner said. "Midtown and our neighborhood in particular is almost 80 to 90 percent rentals."
But it’s not so cut and dry, he went on to say. "Our position as a neighborhood organization is we want to keep the lines of communication open, we want to work with people who are good managers," Piner said. "That’s why we decided to take a supportive position with Sean. He was being exemplary."
Derfield said his goal is to make sure the neighbors understand Der BierGarten isn’t the type of establishment to attract "a bunch of rowdy college kids." It’s to be more family friendly, "stroller friendly" if you will, where people can grab a pretzel, soda or beer, and enjoy them outside picnic style.
The business will also create tax revenue for the city, create jobs and offer a unique spot in the city, while solving the issue of a vacant lot, he said.
"…This concept is different in every way of the many sports bars, pizza and hamburger places that keep popping up," Derfield wrote in a letter of proposal. "In Germany people go to places like what we have planned to socialize with friends while enjoying a meal and meeting new people. They do not go to slam down shots, get belligerent and cause trouble."
The hearing will be held Thursday, March 21, at 3 p.m. at 300 Richards Boulevard, on the third floor.