Wilderness Trail Distillery may be forced to move due to ‘slap in the face’ from court

Published 9:40 pm Thursday, April 16, 2020

By ROBIN HART

robin.hart@amnews.com

Boyle County Fiscal Court “threw a wrench” into Wilderness Trail Distillery’s plans to expand when it recently denied the business’s request to amend a zoning ordinance for agricultural property it had purchased, according to one of the business’s owners.

“It was a slap in the face,” said Shane Baker, co-owner of WTD.

Baker said because the court denied its text amendment request which would allow construction of rickhouses (distilled spirit warehouses) on property zoned as agriculture, it would be forced to build its final Boyle County rickhouse on land at its distillery on Lebanon Road, which is zoned industrial. The area where it will be built has been used for public parking during special events such as the Kentucky State BBQ Festival.

“They left us no choice. We have to exercise our only option,” Baker said on Wednesday.

In addition, future plans may now include purchasing land in Garrard County so the company can build more rickhouses, thereby making it necessary to move the 11-line bottling facility and its jobs to where most of the warehouses would be clustered, Baker said.

In addition, Firm Solutions, another operation owned by himself and Pat Heist, currently located on Roy Arnold Blvd. in Danville, could move to Garrard as well, since they have outgrown that location too, he added.

“We’re greatly disappointed,” about the court’s decision not to amend the ordinance so that land in agriculture districts could be used for the storage of distilled spirits, as allowed in other counties, Baker said.

With the booming bourbon industry, WTD recently “doubled down” and invested to expand production to seven days a week,” Baker said. Which in turn produces more barrels of bourbon that will require more rickhouses to age in before being bottled as the final product, Baker explained.

Part of their expansion plans included the purchase late last fall of a 117-acre tract, just across the road from the distillery.

The company purchased the land at absolute auction, knowing that it was zoned agriculture, Baker said.

In January Baker said he met with Boyle County Judge-Executive Howard Hunt, Danville Mayor Mike Perros, Develop Danville CEO and President Jody Lassiter and members of the Economic Development Partnership and told them what the company’s plans were and “the critical nature of the timing” for constructing rickhouses on their property.

After the meeting, Baker said he had the impression that “everybody was on board,” and that they could move forward in April or May when construction could begin on their new land.

However, last week he found out that his request for a zoning text amendment had not been on recent fiscal court agendas, so construction can’t begin. He said he didn’t know if the issue had been “forgotten or ignored,” and later said it was a lack of leadership.

And now, “I’ve got no place to roll barrels,” Baker said.

Baker said he watched Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting on YouTube with Lassiter. “They (magistrates) seemed very uninformed,” about why it would be good for the county to grant WTD’s request and the amount of revenue from taxes it would collect if the company remained in Boyle.

“It seems like they are tired of doing their job,” when a magistrate said they had worked for several months on the new P&Z ordinances and didn’t want to amend anything, Baker said.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all” document, he added.

“This doesn’t leave us any option for future growth in Boyle County.”

“We fully support our community. We took this as a slap in the face. There was no legitimate reason,” why the fiscal court didn’t table the decision until he could explain to the magistrates why they wanted the land to remain zoned agriculture.

The company didn’t have the opportunity to go through the amendment request process, “not even to be heard,” Baker said. “And now the public has no say.”