Distillery owners won’t stay in dry county

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Request annexation into city so they can sell their product

By Lisa King

After county officials celebrated laying the groundwork to bring the county its first distillery, that distillery has asked to be annexed into Shelbyville so it can sell the bourbon and other distilled spirits it produces.

Although they granted the request at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Shelby County Fiscal Court, magistrates expressed displeasure at losing the revenue that the facility would have brought into county coffers.

“We don’t want to just give it to the city,” said magistrate Hubie Pollett.

Pollett and magistrate Michael Riggs both said the inability of county businesses to sell packaged alcoholic beverages is a situation that needs to be changed because it is detrimental to the county’s economic development.

“The county should have been wet ten years ago,” Pollett said.

Said Riggs: “We’ve got to find some way to move this county forward, to be progressive in these situations,” he said.

Magistrates begrudgingly voted to approve a request by Bruce and Linda Nethery to allow the annexation of 50 acres of a 128-acre tract they are purchasing on Gordon Lane to be annexed into the city of Shelbyville.

However, there is still some political maneuvering to be done in the city, as well.

The property the distillery is planned for on Gordon Lane is zoned agricultural, which fits the county’s plan for distilleries. However, distilleries are currently not an allowable use on property zoned agricultural within the city.

But, according to Shelbyville City Attorney Steve Gregory, the city will soon start the process to get that changed.

On May 20, Gregory said, he will present some language to the Triple S Planning Committee that will allow distilleries in some zones where they are currently prohibited, including agricultural, and some interchange and commercial zones.

The Netherys, who were present at the meeting, explained that they would not need to have the entire tract annexed, as only the acreage they plan to use for the distillery itself and accompanying facilities would need to be wet. The rest of the land would be used for growing corn, the main ingredient in bourbon and some other liquors.

Shelby County’s current designation is “moist,” which means it has partial alcohol sales. In Shelbyville, there are no restrictions, but outside the city limits only restaurants that derive most of their income from food sales and wineries approved by special election have the option to sell alcohol.

But unlike laws regarding restaurants, no government body can change the designation. That would require a formal petition and a special election, said Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger.

“The fiscal court cannot do it; it is totally up to the people of the county,” he said.

“Anybody can circulate the petition if they bring the required number of signatures,” he said.

Rothenburger said he did not think that any of the magistrates would be taking the initiative to get such a petition together because it would not be appropriate.

“We’re representatives of the people; this really needs to be a decision by the people,” he said. “I don’t think it needs to be driven by government. It’s not for us to ram the decision through; it really needs to come from the public.”

He added that he would think that one of the business owners in the county that would benefit from alcohol sales would get the ball rolling; that has been the case in many counties that have instituted a wet status, he said.

But even though the county did lose out on having the distillery locate within its boundaries, Rothenburger said the community would benefit from the establishment of the facility, a move that came about through efforts of the fiscal court to revise zoning regulations to make it easier for distilleries to come in.

“We have crafted this language to attract distilleries to Shelby County and caught the attention of Joyce and Bruce Nethery, which was our intention in the very beginning,” he said. “They have come up with an absolutely fabulous plan to do a craft-style distillery here in Shelby County, which is going to benefit the entire community, not just the City of Shelbyville.

“We’re going to keep crossing this bridge and crossing this bridge, because every annexation request that has come through the city for the past ten years, it all goes back to alcohol. And as Mr. Pollett pointed out, we’re going to have to make a decision in the future as a community. The county has certain responsibilities and services it has to provide and it has to have revenue in order to do that, and it can’t if the city keeps gobbling up all its sources of revenue.”

Trey Hieneman, public information officer for Kentucky Alcohol and Beverage Control, said that out of the state’s 120 counties, 35 are totally wet.

The vote to approve would be countywide, he said.

“Most recently, Breckinridge County was dry, and they voted to go wet, and prior to that, Greenup County was moist, with limited alcohol sales like on golf courses, and they voted to stay dry,” he said.

Shelby County Clerk Sue Carole Perry said that in order to hold an election for the county to become wet, a petition would have to be submitted to her office, containing signatures of 25 percent of the county’s registered voters. Because 27,000 people are registered to vote in Shelby County, such a petition would have to contain 6,750 signatures.

She said that has never been done in her experience as Shelby County Clerk.

“We haven’t had a countywide one [election] since I’ve been clerk,” she said.

Mayor Tom Hardesty said he does not know what individual or group got the movement underway in Shelbyville to give the city a wet status.

“The city has been wet probably since the thirties or forties,” he said. “That was long before my time.”