Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Plan for distillery at I-64 is recommended for approval by county's Agricultural Review Advisory Committee

Magenta line on site plan outlines industrial zone; distillery would be just northwest of mansion. Click image to enlarge it.
By Taylor Beavers
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The plan for the first distillery in Midway for 80 years was recommended for approval Oct. 14 by the Woodford County Agricultural Review Advisory Committee.

If the county Board of Adjustment approves the conditional-use permit for a tourism destination in an agricultural zone, Bluegrass Distillers will relocate from Lexington to Midway at 158 Leestown Pike, on the northwest quadrant of the Interstate 64 interchange.

The $3 million plan includes a tasting room in the historic Elkwood mansion, which would be preserved by having it within walking distance of the distillery, BGD owners Sam Rock and Ben Franzini told the committee.

Elkwood (Photo from Bluegrass Distillers business plan) 
Normally, a distillery would have to be located in an industrial zone, but the closest spot to the mansion is 350 feet away, the owners say, so the walk would be too long. The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that doesn’t protect it.

“If we’re able to keep the house, we really need to use it as a tasting room,” Rock said. “It’s just not realistic to have people go to a tasting room down there and walk 350 feet to go to the distillery.” Rock said the spot that “makes the most sense” for the distillery is even farther away, at 450 feet.

Rock and Franzini said that they were drawn to the property because it would help them exhibit the agricultural history of bourbon.

“Clearly,” Rock said, “a distillery is one of the best examples of agricultural tourism in Kentucky.”

By law, the grain used to distill bourbon must be 51 percent corn, and Rock and Franzini said the project will display the “whole circle of life of corn,” growing it on the property, to being dried and consumed by livestock.

“That’s the beauty of the property,” said Rock. “It really helps us tell the story without fabricating anything.”

Lori Garkovich, secretary of the committee, suggested that the location of the company’s four warehouses should be adjusted so they all can be located in the industrial zone.

That “keeps intact the agricultural parcel that you’re using as the foundation for your story, which is what’s going to be attracting visitors to your place,” said Garkovich. “The location for the proposed distillery is really very powerful in terms of its visual and spatial connection to the agricultural parcel.”

Rock and Franzini said they would do that. They said they want to add a bed and breakfast to the property, but later, and Garkovich said that was good because the proposal is already complex.

The distillery site is the former Mitchell farm. (Click to enlarge.)
Bluegrass Distillers plans to remodel barns on the property for other purposes such as processing, bottling and events.

“We really want to make this a place the community looks to,” said Rock. The property will be available to rent for events.

The application says the facility could host up to seven events a week, but Rock said, “We have no intention of doing that.”

To provide oversight of events held by third parties, the company agreed to have an agent on the property full-time. That was an important factor in raising the proposal’s score to the committee’s “recommended” level, from “additional review by the Board of Adjustment.”

The committee uses a point scale to evaluate proposals. “When we look at an application and we’re doing a site visit, we have certain conditions that we look at and we assign points to it,” said Skip Phillips, a committee member. “It helps us quantify what we’re seeing.”

The committee considers how things such as light pollution, noise pollution and traffic will affect the surrounding area. The maximum number of points is 875; earning 675 qualifies for a recommendation of approval without further review by the Board of Adjustment.

Another important change was the replacement of “restaurant,” a business inconsistent with the county’s definition of agricultural tourism, with “snack shop.”

“We have no intentions of operating a full-blown restaurant,” Rock said. “We don’t really expect to draw any additional traffic from our snack shop.”

Under the proposed permit, music must end by 10 p.m. and the property must be closed by 11 p.m. Lights must be shielded and pointed down and there must be “no trespassing’ signs posted to prevent guests from going where they shouldn’t.

During a walkthrough of the property the week before, committee members made suggestions such as no-trespassing signs and a boundary marker to separate the machine shed from the crop production area. Other suggestions included getting an insurance representative to do a walkthrough of the site and providing walking maps to guests to help guide them when visiting.

The Board of Adjustment is scheduled to consider the application Monday, Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of the county courthouse in Versailles.

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