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Triple S Planning Commission: Public gets first say on distillery ideas

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3 companies have expressed interest in Shelby

By Todd Martin

The rapidly developing idea of bringing distilleries into Shelby County will get its first public airing on Tuesday night.

That’s when Triple S Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing to take comment about rezoning agriculture lands to allow for distilleries. Other than two bond releases, that’s the only new business on the commission’s agenda for the 6:30 p.m. meeting at Stratton Center, 215 Washington St. in Shelbyville,

At issue is a zoning regulation text amendment that would allow the production and storage of distilled spirits as a permitted use on agricultural property. The production and storage of spirits already is allowable in property zoned for industrial use.

“We’ll open the meeting for public comment, and then we’ll take that information with what the Fiscal Court sent, and then the commission will make a recommendation back the court. From that point it is their decision to implement it or not,” said Ryan Libke, the executive director of the Triple S Planning Commission.

The request from Shelby County Fiscal Court asks that the article defining agricultural land use be expanded to include distilleries and include the 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.

Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger said expanding the agricultural use to include distilleries with these restrictions could provide a huge boost.

“We want to become part of the Bourbon Trail [sponsored by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association], and we believe that we can fill a void in the trail that has several locations in Louisville, Lexington and in between,” he said.

He also noted that he has spoken with three new craft distilleries that are interested in Shelby County and are pleased with county’s attempt to make their regulations more accepting.

“This is an opportunity for us to preserve part of our identity with agricultural land, and with its stipulation that twenty-five percent of the property maintain agricultural or conservation, it helps us maintain that identity,” he said.

“And bourbon is an agricultural product, so it fits right in. All three of groups I’ve talked to are very excited about the legislation and have said this is exactly what they need to move forward.”

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, said three distilleries also have been in contact with the association, and that they are excited about the possibilities of adding Bourbon Trail stops in Shelby County.

“Bourbon already has a great connection to Shelby County,” he said. “Woodford Reserve [from Versailles] already gets all its grain from Shelby County [from Doug Langley’s farm], so it would be a great addition to the trail. Distilleries already line the I-64 corridor from Lexington to Louisville, and it’s a great place to purchase local grains.”

Once fiscal court receives a recommendation from Triple S, it would vote on whether or not to enact the change to the zoning regulations for property zoned Agricultural, which would require a first and second reading.

And it could open another issue for fiscal court – whether or not Shelby County become a “wet” county, meaning packaged alcohol sales would be allowed in the county.

“Those are two different issues right now,” Rothenburger said. “But down the road that could be an important component that needs to be addressed.”

Under current law, if a distillery opened in Shelby County it could not offer tastings or retail sales of its product.

Small farm wineries, under state law, can be allowed to sell and offer tastings if approved through a special election.

“But that doesn’t apply to distilleries,” Rothenburger said.

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels and bottled at 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume).

But bourbon generally takes time to age, although there are no requirements except that straight bourbon must be aged for at least two years.

With that in mind, Rothenburger noted that the representatives with distilleries to whom he has spoken have expressed interest in making more than just bourbon.

“This is something that could really put Shelby County on the map,” he said. “We could become a real tourist Mecca. We’re already known as the American Saddlebred Capital of the World, and now you add a distillery or two and the outlet mall [in Simpsonville], and this is a destination where people want to spend some time.”

Also at the meeting, the commission will:

  • Elect a chair, vice chair and treasurer for 2014.
  • Hear partial bond releases for Cloverbrook Farms section 3, $9,791.84, and section 9, $142,700.