City to draft ordinance approving zone change for rickhouses

Danville City Commission approved going forward with drafting an ordinance for a zone change at 1695 Lancaster Road from agricultural and highway business to light industrial. The applicant and property owner, LMD Holdings, LLC, hopes to use the approximately 30.8 acres to build rickhouses for Luca Mariano Distillery operations.

The vote on March 22 to go forward with drafting the ordinance, which will need two readings, was 3-1, with the one nay vote from commissioner Denise Terry. Mayor Michael Perros was not present at the meeting to vote.

A Jan. 27 planning and zoning commission public hearing had found the proposal compatible with the Future Land Use Map, since in October 2019 LMD Holdings had successfully petitioned for an amendment to the FLUM “with the specific intent of a future rezoning classification Industrial Business Development,” according to a planning commission staff report, and found it consistent with the Danville-Boyle County Comprehensive Plan, and the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend the city commission approve the zone change.

According to minutes from the hearing, “three close neighbors to the property spoke in favor of the zone change, the business and the developer,” and “Caldwell Stone spoke in particular favor of this zone change.”

Luca Mariano owner Francesco Viola said this piece of land is part of a much larger plan — LMD Holdings owns hundreds of acres of city and county land in the area. The plan is to build rickhouses on this piece he wants to rezone currently and, down the line, build a distillery down the road, have a separate area for a visitor’s center and to build a “small village” around the historic William Crow house on the surrounding property.

The house once belonged to a man named Guy Jones, who was a bootlegger during the Prohibition Era, flying alcohol in from Canada. Viola, who is in a Nashville-based band and is a songwriter, said he wrote a song about the house. He said there is a lot of history on the land and that the property is beautiful, with its rolling hills and agricultural focus.

“We’re going to minimally develop the property,” he said. “We want to keep it farmland.”

There are some farmers on the property, including local grain farmers, and Viola said he hopes to incorporate farming operations into future distillery operations.

Ultimately, the project on the large parcel of land could be a 10 to 15-year project, he said. One hope with the project is to bring tourism, jobs and general economic development into town.

“Our intent is to do good,” Viola said. “We want everyone in the community to be happy. We’re happy to be here.”

LMD Holdings had in early 2020 previously tried to rezone nearly 300 acres of land to light industrial, but due to the large acreage and limited conditions, the planning commission was hesitant to approve it, so the project took a piecemeal approach with the plan being to rezone a bit of the land at a time, and this nearly 31-acre portion is one of the pieces. Viola wants to put about four rickhouses on the land to store bourbon and whiskey barrels.

When this zone change recommendation was tabled at a previous city commission meeting due to concerns regarding the historical house, water and sewer and the conditions placed on the property, city attorney Stephen Dexter said the city engineer, Josh Morgan, did a review.

He submitted a memorandum to city manager Earl Coffey and for the commissioners to review that had questions involving traffic impact, geological analysis, utility access, fences on the property, accessibility to the property and if spill prevention had been addressed. He also proposed the question, “Should we allow piecemeal zone changes that do not address the full development of the property?” adding that “There are certain criteria to the zone change decision including development size and continuity of use that cannot be fully addressed without knowledge of the entire site development plan.”

Terry said her “main concern” was “inconsistencies” between conditions in zone change proposals, as some have more than others, and this particular proposal has three: that the total building area for any single building not exceed 100,000 square feet and not exceed six stories tall, that the land be used for distillery operation and agriculture uses and not allow for adult entertainment, auto services, petroleum services, repair businesses or self-service units and that the portion of the property have just one direct construction access point “to be served by Old Lancaster Road,” in summary.

“There are three conditions with this one, and they’re not very specific, and I just am not very comfortable with that,” Terry said.

To this commissioner Jennie Hollon, who has previously served on the planning commission, replied, “I kind of disagree just because I’ve seen so many zone changes, and this is to me about as specific as you can be about a rickhouse.”

However, Hollon noted that it would be important to address the questions Morgan posed at the site plan level.

Planning and zoning director Steve Hunter said with two other distilleries in town, one had been zoned with no written conditions, and another was zoned with no concept plan but with written conditions. This particular proposal has both a concept plan and written conditions.

When Terry brought up the question of water and sewer again, Dexter said that was more of a site plan discussion and not necessarily appropriate to discuss at a concept plan level by the city. The question at this point, he said, was whether the proposed zone was “appropriate” and encouraged commissioners to think of the zoning classification rather than the use of the property.

Commissioner James “J.H.” Atkins brought up the question of the house during the meeting since the approximately 31 acres is part of a larger plan.

Dan Campbell, a principal broker for DMC Investments, LLC, who sold Viola some of his land, said Viola plans to renovate the house, though it may come years down the line because it’s an expensive undertaking and may involve replacing the house with a replica. He also said rickhouses involve limited access to water and sewer, though they require other utilities. A distillery, however, requires ample access to water and sewer, but only rickhouses are being planned for the approximately 31 acres currently in question.

Ultimately, the city commission decided with a vote 3-1 that an ordinance be prepared to approve the zone change, and Dexter said it will be ready for a first reading at the commission’s next meeting in April.