Navy regulations stunt local brewery growth

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A Virginia Beach brewery is at odds with the U.S. Navy.

For three years, Young Veterans Brewing Company has operated in a Navy easement, which is restrictive use section of the city. But when they tried to expand, they drew the attention of the Navy — and not in a good way.

Under the Oceana Naval Base airspace, two young Army veterans set up their brewery.

“I think we were one of the first breweries to come out with a theme that was very built around being a veteran,” owner Thomas Wilder said.

Photos: Va. Beach brewery goes through growing pains

Three years ago, Wilder and Neil McCanon opened up shop. As fast as the pint glasses filled, so did their business.

“Because that was one of the biggest problems we had starting out, was the size of our tap-room,” Wilder said. “It wasn’t big enough for the number of people we were attracting.”

This year, they had a plan to expand their tap-room. Since they operate inside a Navy easement with Naval Air Station Oceana, the Navy got involved.

After reviewing the site, the Navy would only sign off for the expansion with certain conditions.

“No more outdoor space, no television sets, no games, no food trucks whatsoever,” Wilder said.

What could they do? Neil and Tom agreed and finished the expansion.

“Really, what it boils down to is, we cannot compete with the breweries that are even five miles from us,” Wilder said. “We cannot provide the amenities that they can provide.”

In their letters regarding the easement, the Navy cites safety as a concern for limiting retail space. Neil McCanon understands, but when you look at a map, you can see other nearby crowded facilities.

“Obviously Lynnhaven Mall is under the easement as well,” McCanon said. “It’s just a different set of restrictions over there.”

For Wilder and McCanon, the easement doesn’t outline those types of things the way they interpret it. For the two of them, it just doesn’t seem clear. The young veterans said they’ll follow orders, they just don’t agree with them.

The Navy said Wednesday that “easements, or land use rights, protect the health, safety, and welfare of civilian and military personnel by encouraging land use that is compatible with aircraft operations.”

Easements also protect the operational viability of Navy installations’ mission activities and systems. Maintaining the integrity of these easements is vital to the current and future mission of our installations and NAS Oceana in particular. Our efforts demonstrate our willingness to work with proprietors as stipulated in our agreements. Our goal is always to find a way to get to ‘yes.’ Entertainment is not the primary use in the agreement. Specifically, the easement stipulates, ‘Retail sales, except as an auxiliary function of enterprises and/or uses not prohibited herein and, in any event, the gross building area of any area open to the public and/or showrooms devoted to such permitted retail sales, if any, shall not exceed 10 percent of gross building area.’ Proprietors submitted a request for a second easement compliance review (first was in 2012 when business opened). In response, a determination letter was sent to them on September 26, 2016, in which the business was granted a three-year grace period to bring the business into compliance with the terms of the easement. They may conduct business as originally outlined in 2012 until 2019. There are no new restrictions.”