Amendment approval would allow distillery expansion

Published 9:07 am Friday, July 24, 2020

Rick houses can be built on farmland if the Boyle County Fiscal Court approves a zoning text amendment that the planning and zoning commission OK’d following a public hearing on the matter on Wednesday.

The public hearing for a zoning text amendment came about after owners of Wilderness Trail Distillery purchased a 117-acre tract at auction at the end of last year off of Lebanon Road. The company planned to build 11 rick houses on it to store bourbon, which is distilled on land right across the road, but found out as construction was to begin, that rick houses were only allowed on industrial-zoned property and not on land zoned for agriculture.

If given the final approval by fiscal court, the new zoning ordinance amendment will allow distilled spirit storage facilities on 20 acres or more in unincorporated areas of the county and will require a conditional use permit for their construction from the Board of Adjustments.

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The zoning amendment also requires these storage facilities to minimize increased traffic congestion on existing streets, roads and intersections; meet fire protection standards; not exceed 40,000 square feet and be no higher than 60 feet; be setback a minimum of 200 feet from property lines and at least 500 feet from residential districts; and no closer than 1,000 feet to churches, and other places of permanent worship and schools; and at least 50 % of the area shall be dedicated to agricultural uses or preserved as conservation area.

During the public hearing, Jody Lassiter, president and CEO of Develop Danville, asked the board for approval of the amendment so that it could go forward to the fiscal court, in hopes of its approval, which would make the amendment official. 

“Rick houses are as typical in the bluegrass landscape as rock fences and horses,” he said. 

He stated that the proposed amendment was modeled after Nelson County’s, which he said was a distilling “legacy county.”

Since bourbon distilling began just about seven years ago with Wilderness Trail Distillery, Lassiter said that the county now needs to adapt to changes that the industry needs.

For example, rick houses are now only allowed on land that’s zoned industrial. 

“That’s not in the best interest of the distilling business because industrial marked property is listed at between $20,000 to $25,000 an acre.” And the owners of WTD recently purchased about 117 acres that’s zoned agriculture for $1,700 an acre.

He added that allowing farmers and rural landowners to lease or sell unproductive acreage to distilleries for construction of their rick houses, “Then we have preserved family farms” rather than put them up for sale for potential housing and other developments.

“This is not a Wilderness Trail issue. This is a business development issue,” Lassiter said.

With the amendment, other Kentucky distilleries such as Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Makers Mark will also be able to build rick houses here if they want to.

Sallie Bright spoke against the zoning text amendment on behalf of Smart Growth Boyle.

“One of the issues is we’re trying to keep rural and agriculture in the county as much as possible. She said the group understands the reasons why allowing rick houses in agriculture districts were valuable. 

However, at a Smart Growth conference in November several speakers pointed out “how important it is to keep the integrity of the rural county, the landscape and the agriculture heritage.”

She also told the commission that Kentucky is one of the top states that loses agricultural land to development every year. Nationwide, about 2,000 acres of farmland is lost every day, she said.

She also said she didn’t understand why a text amendment, and not a request for a zone change was being considered.

In closing Bright said everyone was familiar with the abandoned rick houses just across the Kentucky River in Jessamine County. In Boyle County, “What happens to these structures if the business fails or are not used any more? These are just a few things to consider here.”

Before taking a vote on the matter, P&Z Commissioner Vince DiMartino said he “would love to see things stay the same,” but he was confident that the commission can look at the county’s economic development and agriculture heritage. He said he thought the commission would “Make sure we never lose sight of the whole picture. I’m not afraid to vote ‘yes.'”

Following the meeting, WTD co-owner Dr. Pat Heist said he was pleased that the P&Z Commission supported allowing rick houses to be built throughout the county. “All along we’ve been interested in two things – continuing growing here in Boyle County and continue growing our legacy for this county.

“And we’re also sensitive to the agricultural land and we want to preserve that land. We believe rick house structures are intandent with farming. In fact, we’re planning on putting some cattle on the property.”

And because they’ll feed the herd with residual byproduct made through their distilling process, “I think it does fit very well in agriculture.”