Both the Chesterton
Board of Zoning Appeals and department heads entertained specific concerns
going into last week’s public hearing on a use variance which would permit
Vern Brown, owner of the Chesterton Brewery, to establish an artisan
distillery at the old Westchester Lanes.
appears to have given the right answers to their pointed questions, and
though members voted unanimously to continue the public hearing to next
month’s meeting, Aug. 27, they did so chiefly to massage a list of
conditions which would be attached to the variance.
In fact, the
petition for a use variance was the first of two considered by the BZA with
respect to the old Westchester Lanes, 124 N. Eighth St. The distillery
itself--plus a tasting room and offices--would occupy only the former lounge
area of the building. The former bowling alley--which has been stripped
out--would be used for the seasonal storage of boats, RVs, campers,
and other vehicles, should the BZA be of a mind to grant a special exception
as provided by the Zoning Ordinance.
distillery and the storage unit would be built a three-hour fire wall and an
appropriate fire-rated door. And that’s the crux of the concerns expressed
by members as well as by Building Commissioner Mark O’Dell and Fire Chief
John Jarka: the storage of highly flammable spirits on the premises.
Brown, a process
engineer with 30 years of experience, some of it on oil platforms in the
Gulf of Mexico, told the board that he would use a 125-gallon still and an
added piece of equipment that many larger distilleries don’t use: a spirit
safe, which would store the volatile vapors and liquid itself until it can
be evacuated into another container. “It’s for our safety,” he said, “not
required by the town. We paid a bit extra for a spirit safe.” Further: no
more than 120 gallons of spirit would be stored on site at any one time
(although Brown is also requesting permission to store an additional 120
gallons on the other side of the fire wall, in the vehicle storage area).
“This would be an
artisan distillery,” Brown added. “Very, very small. We’re still in proof of
concept, which is why we’re looking to lease.”
In the distilling
of rum, vodka, moonshine, and gin, Brown explained, 125 gallons of product
go into the still and 10 gallons come out into the spirit safe, six of those
10 gallons being drinkable. Even with an around-the-clock operation, he
would never be able to produce more than 20 gallons in a day. But Brown said
that under his current business plan he would only distill once a week. “I
don’t know how the town will support a distillery. I don’t know how it will
Brown noted that he
is in the process of applying for both a state and federal distillery
license. Such a license would allow him to sell bottles of spirits on the
premises and to serve them as well in a tasting room. But only his brand of
spirits, not another distillery’s. Brown’s attorney, Greg Babcock, noted for
his part that the building “has a prior history of having a three-way
license”; that “this particular use is a good use for this location,”
adjacent to and across the street from I-1-zoned Republic Service
facilities; and that a detailed list of conditions would be attached both to
the use variance for the distillery and the special exception for the
vehicle storage area.
No one spoke in
favor of, or in opposition to, either petition. But O’Dell and Jarka had
questions. Stipulated: that Brown has no intention of storing more than 120
gallons of spirits in the distillery at any one time, since any more than
that would technically make the distillery a “high hazard occupancy” and
require the installation of a sprinkler system. But how, they wanted to
know, would Brown know exactly how much he’s distilled, how much is in the
spirit safe, how much in bottles in the tasting room?
“There’s a trust
issue here,” O’Dell said. “How do I as Building Commissioner and John as
Fire Chief enforce this?”
Riley suggested that a workable enforcement protocol could be established.
“We face enforcement all the time,” he said. “I think that’s a good question
but not enough to deny the petition. We have to figure out how to deal with
“If you grant this
variance and God forbid something happens, we’ve laid out our concerns,”
there would be a way for O’Dell and Jarka to keep tabs on the distillery,
Brown suggested. Under the terms of the federal distillery license, he would
be required to file on-line reports, with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and
Trade Bureau (TTB), at every stage of the process, from production to
storage to packaged account, by date and gallonage. “The moment you finish
distilling, you log it with the TTB,” Brown said.
“Would that satisfy
the concerns?” Riley asked. “If that document has a name and the proper
nomenclature, can that be put in as a condition?”
As far as
enforcement goes, O’Dell said that TTB reporting would satisfy his concerns.
But he pressed for the installation of a sprinkler system regardless.
sprinkler system for the whole building, Brown responded, would cost around
$100,000. Just sprinkling the distillery itself would cost around $50,000.
“That’s 50 grand I don’t have,” he said.
At that point in
the proceeding, Associate Julie Paulson indicated that a continuance of the
public hearing would probably be a good idea. “I’m uncomfortable working out
additional conditions on the fly,” she told the BZA.
Member Joe Ackerman
agreed. “I"m supportive of the concept, but I feel it’s important to have
these matters buttoned down,” he said.
Member Joel Carney
agreed as well. “I want all these technical things spelled out,” he said.
voted unanimously to continue the public hearing to their next meeting.
In other business,
members also voted unanimously to continue to their next meeting Earl and
Kathy Clark’s petition for two variances to permit the construction of a
larger garage on their property at 223 S. Eighth St.: one to increase the
maximum lot coverage of 30 percent to 41 percent, a variance of 11 percent;
and another to reduce the side-yard setback from eight to three feet, a
variance of five feet.
It was determined,
however, that notices of the public hearing were not sent in a timely
fashion to property owners within 300 feet of their residence, hence the
continuance to Aug. 27, so that the Clarks can re-send the notices. “It’s a
statutory requirement that notices be sent out again with a new date in a
timely fashion,” Paulson said.
voted unanimously to grant Michael and Melissa Topors’ petition for a
variance to permit the installation of an above-ground swimming pool on
their property at 3525 Drivers Way: to reduce the side-yard setback from 10
feet to four, a variance of six feet.
“This is pretty
straightforward to me,” Carney said.
“Yeah, I have no
issue with this petition,” Ackerman added.
At a public hearing
which preceded the vote, no one spoke in favor of the petition and no one in