November 27, 2013

Proposed rural distillery will need zoning change

As published in The Erin Advocate

A plan to distill whiskey and rum on the Third Line near Hillsburgh, including a tasting bar and bottle shop, has run into a roadblock with Town Council.

Last Straw Distillery had hoped the proposal to produce 15,000 bottles of spirits per year could be deemed an agricultural use, since they would be growing grain for their products.

Planner Sally Stull said that distilling is a High Hazard Industrial use under the Building Code, and cannot be permitted without an amendment to the zoning bylaw. She said the need to age the whiskey a minimum of three years would result in “significant volatile product storage”.

“There would be minimal environmental impact, and hopefully a strong and lasting economic impact,” said company representative Michael Hook in a delegation to council on November 5.

He had taken some encouragement a mention of “vineyards” as an agricultural use in the bylaw, and from a letter written by Wellington Planning Director Gary Cousins, who said, “The County does support value added uses related to agriculture, and your proposed use seems to generally fit that category.”

But Cousins did warn that rezoning is normally needed and that it is a Town issue. Town Council agreed with Stull, who also noted that there could be issues on this gravel road, requiring a safety and maintenance study, due to increased truck and weekend visitor traffic.

Even the retail shop would not be currently permitted in the agricultural zone.

Stull said a distillery would be a restricted use, since it is a “combustible product”. The firm would need licensing under the federal Excise Act to produce alcohol, as well as provincial approval to sell alcohol.