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Shelby County magistrates took the first step Tuesday in a campaign to promote the establishment of bourbon distilleries in Shelby County by unanimously passing a resolution seek an amendment to agricultural zoning regulations.
The resolution formally asks Triple S Planning Commission to hold a public hearing on the matter and consider the text amendment.
“This will let the public talk about whether they would like to see this in Shelby County,” Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger said at Tuesday’s meeting of fiscal court.
Rothenburger said the move was prompted by several “inquiries” he has had during the past 18 months, from both local residents and others who expressed interest in the concept of a boutique distillery.
“I’ve had numerous inquiries from sources both local and abroad, who were interested in distilling bourbon in Shelby County,” he said.
He declined to name any of those individuals or companies. “They want to remain anonymous,” he said.
Magistrates are requesting that the article defining agricultural land use be expanded and include these requirements:
§ The property must be at least 100 acres.
§ At least 25 acres must be dedicated to agricultural use or preserved as green space.
§ The maximum allowed building height shall be 72 feet.
§ Square footage of any facility shall not exceed 60,000.
Rothenburger said that if the amendment is approved, it would be set by ordinance, and that any property owners who wish to establish a distillery would need to submit a development plan.
“It is not creating a new special use; it is however, amending the amendments for agricultural districts. We are creating a new permitted use in planning and zoning’s text amendments relating to agricultural districts. This new section would allow for the production and storage of distilled spirits,” he said.
Triple S Executive Director Ryan Libke said that he expects the matter to be put on the commission’s agenda for its regular meeting on Jan. 21.
“There is a booming bourbon industry throughout Kentucky, and Shelby County is one of the few counties that is omitted from the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky,” Rothenburger said.
Magistrates say they fully are behind the endeavor, including Michael Riggs, District 2 magistrate in Simpsonville, who made the motion to approve the resolution.
“I think this is an excellent use of Shelby County land and a great opportunity for Shelby County to attract some of these distilleries. It would definitely be an asset,” he said. “Also it [the proposed amendment] doesn’t alter any existing land-use requirements, it just adds a new category.”
“It just provides a very streamlined conduit and makes the process easier for anyone who wants to produce distilled spirits in Shelby County.”
Katie Fussenegger, executive director of the Shelby County Tourism Commission, said she was excited about the prospect.
“The tourism commission commends Judge Rothenburger and the fiscal court for being proactive in hopefully attracting essential business,” she said. “The Bourbon Trail Industry, from a tourism perspective, brings five hundred thousand visitors each year. That’s a tremendous economic impact for the community that would be invaluable, and it’s something that we hope will be progressive and attractive.
“Because people don’t just go to a distillery and then leave – they stay and eat, they shop, they may stay overnight, and they’ll continue to come back and visit. So we are behind this move one-hundred and ten percent.”
Eileen Collins, executive director of the Shelby Development Corporation, also said she thinks the move could be beneficial to economic development in Shelby County.
“Shelby Development Corporation is all about economic vitality and it’s important for our Main Street to be economic and vital, but when the county is economically vitally, that’s a win-win for all of us,” she said.
According to kentuckybourbontrail.com, the bourbon industry, a cooperative among eight distilleries in seven counties, generates more than $125 million in tax revenue each year, with nearly 2.5 million visitors from all 50 states and 25 countries to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in the last five years.
Rothenburger said the economic impact goes beyond tourism.
“It’s an agricultural endeavor because they [distilleries] will be buying local products, such as corn,” he said. “So this would also benefit our farmers, Bagdad Roller Mills, and the entire community.”
No alcohol sale on site
As for the issue of being able to sell bourbon locally, Rothenburger acknowledged that the distilleries still would not be able to sell bourbon onsite under the county’s current “moist” status, but they would have to take it into the city or “wet” areas to market it.
State Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville), chair of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, said that issue should not come up unless a distillery wanted to have a tasting room such as wineries do, and that would require holding a special election for the district in which the facility was located.
“Most distilleries I know of don’t normally sell products onsite; they usually go through large distributors,” he said.