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Lawrence's Free State Brewing Co. to celebrate 25 years; how that boat in your driveway may become a problem

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Do you remember where you were 25 years ago this month? I've already got my shoes off, so I'll do the math for you. That was February of 1989, so perhaps you were still recovering from the party following Kansas University's 1988 National Championship.

Or maybe you had already shifted gears, and were talking like KU's new coach, Roy Williams, by saying things like Doggonne it, we got to play defense like a tick grabs on to a hound's ear."

Or maybe some of you were spending time at Lawrence's newest establishment, which at times has served me a beverage that has helped me talk like Roy Williams, like a pirate, like a parrot, and like a pirate's parrot coaching basketball like Roy Williams.

Yes, Free State Brewery is 25 years old this month, and it plans to celebrate this week. I'm still working to get all the details, but Free State founder Chuck Magerl tells me that Sunday, Feb. 23, will be the big celebration. Look for concerts, birthday discounts, prizes, free cake and 25 different Free State brews. UPDATE: I talked with Chuck, and he gave me a few more details. Look for some special brews to begin showing up on the menu on Thursday. From Thursday through Sunday, Free State will offer 25 different brews, although not all at the same time. In other words, they'll roll out different brews on different days, and when they are gone, they are gone. Sunday will be the big day for the celebration. At 5:25 p.m. on Sunday, Magerl plans on giving everyone in the restaurant a free piece of birthday cake. As for the concert that was alluded to, Magerl said Free State is the major sponsor of Saturday evening's concert at The Bottleneck that will feature former Lawrence resident and BR549 founder Chuck Mead.)

Any business that survives 25 years is worth celebrating, but the story behind the beginnings of the Free State Brewing Co. is more unique than most. Magerl had to lobby Kansas legislators to get a Prohibition-era state law changed to allow brewing to even return to Kansas. Then he had to convince investors to put their money into something called a microbrewery, which in 1989 probably sounded like a made-up word. After all, local investors perhaps had never seen one. Magerl notes that Kansas "was a hinterland" as far as breweries go.

"There was one in Chicago and one in Denver," Magerl said of craft breweries in 1989. "Nothing in the nearly 1 million square miles of U.S. in between."

Today, I think I can say without much argument that Free State Brewery, 636 Massachusetts St., is one of the more popular restaurants in Lawrence and the state. (It was named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.)

But in recent years, it has become a much larger brewery. The company has a production facility in East Lawrence where it bottles its beer, and it now is sold in every Kansas county that has a liquor store and in some adjacent states as well.

Free State Brewing Co. truly has a national reputation in brewing circles. (A tour guide at the Coors plant in Golden, Colo., saw me wearing a KU hat during a tour of the plant, and explained to the group the greatness of Free State beer.) Magerl is one of the driving forces behind the Lawrence-based Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition, which will attract several hundred people to downtown Lawrence on March 8. The craft brewing business is booming, and it will be interesting to watch how it booms locally.

"Consumers are making the leap from craft to local craft," Magerl said. "Beer drinkers have been gravitating to local brands. We feel like 25 years is a good start, but just a start."

In other news and notes from around town:

• Perhaps there have been times where a little too much of the beverage that made Free State famous has caused you to be temporarily banished to a tent trailer in your driveway.

Well, city officials now are beginning to wonder whether you should be able to park that tent trailer or boat or RV in your driveway for long periods of time. The city's planning department currently is hosting an online survey seeking opinions about the appropriateness of recreational vehicles being stored in residential neighborhoods.

As the city's code is currently written, there basically are no standards for where you are allowed to park a recreational vehicle, such as a fifth-wheel camping trailer, boat, tent trailer or such vehicles. (There are regulations about how long you can park them on a street, but not on your property.) The city previously did have a regulation, which put some prohibitions on parking them on nonpaved surfaces and prohibited them from being within four feet of your house or within 10 feet of your neighbor's house, among other restrictions.

But when the city's development code got rewritten in 2006, that language wasn't included in the new code. Planning staff doesn't recall any intentional decision to leave out those regulations but rather think it may have been an unintentional omission.

Sheila Stogsdill, an administrator in the planning department, said the office has been receiving complaints about how some recreational vehicles are stored in some neighborhoods. She said sometimes the complaints focus on the condition of the recreational vehicles, and how having them parked in the front driveway may be lowering property values in the area. Other complaints have focused on the size of some of the vehicles and how having them parked in a driveway can create sight-distance problems for motorists.

You can express your opinion about the issue by taking the online survey here. The deadline to respond to the survey is Feb. 28. Planners will use the survey results as they craft proposed regulations. Any new regulations will have to be approved both by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, and also by the City Commission.

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  • Comments

    Lawrence Morgan 7 months ago

    Chuck, congratulations! (Lawrence Morgan from the time when the Free State Brewery actually started!)

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    Jonathan Fox 7 months ago

    While I think that the past existing rules for recreational vehicles seemed reasonable; not parking them in your front yard; there should remain the right to store them on your property. I cannot imagine an old boat or RV having a sizable enough detriment to a neighborhood to warrant its removal from someone's property.

    As for the sight of motorist concern, as long as the vehicle isn't parked on the sidewalk right next to the street, that shouldn't be a problem.

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    Betty Bartholomew 7 months ago

    Are the neighbors complaining about property value moving out soon? I bet their neighbors will hide their rec. vehicle if it will help things along.

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