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Zoning-Light Manufacturing or….?


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Yesterday I stopped into our local city planners office with zoning questions about a potential building. Although I had already read through the zoning laws and had a basic idea where and where not we could locate, a conditional use question arose.

Our proposed location is within a zone that allows alcohol to be served so our retail shop would be fine, but under the conditional uses "light manufacturing" is not allowed. Being we are the first of our kind the city planner did not know how to classify a distillery, so he could not give the immediate go ahead, which is understandable.

Now he seemed interested in finding a way to get approval. He suggested that the best way is to find an example of another town that classified a distillery other than light manufacturing or industrial, and provide documentation.

I also asked about a variance to which he replied it was not legal to give a variance for a "use". In other words, there is really no way around the conditional use restrictions except to find a different label for the manufacturing process of a distillery.

So here I am asking you guys!

What does your city consider your distillery under your zoning laws? Does anyone have any ideas on how I can phrase the manufacturing process of distillation other than light manufacturing?

Thanks!

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Out here in the northeast, zoning is determined on a municipality by municipality basis, so there can be dramatic differences just moving one town over. No idea what it's like in Montana, so keep that in mind when reading my response. We were required to obtain a use variance to operate in a Business Commercial zone, otherwise distilleries were classified as permitted uses only in the most restrictive of the defined heavy industrial zones. This classification was likely based on rules put in place pre-prohibition. This process required an attorney, architect, and planner. While the town was very receptive to the idea, we still needed to go through the proper channels. The team, which also included an additional expert, made the case to the board. I'm glad we brought along an expert to give testimony as well, since we did have "interested parties" who asked some significant questions that the board would have deemed us unqualified to address.

I'd suggest working with a local attorney who is familiar with local land use and frequently presents use variance cases to the zoning and planning boards. Not only will these folks be familiar with the process, but in many cases (at least out here), they are familiar with the particulars of the board and know particular pain points. In our case, he specifically recommended we pay particular attention to items like parking and odor, since he knew that these were particularly sensitive issues around the area of our location. Of course, he was spot on, and it was the main issue that the "interested parties" brought up. We were able to nail it. The architect had done parking calculations, reviewed local parking, etc etc. Clearly made the case that we were in excess of required parking. Also, the expert (another local distillery owner) was able to address the issues of odor by providing specific examples of their own active operation. Our attorney went back through the township records to be able to make the point that they had never had an odor complaint against them in their years of operation.

Anyhow, I digress.

One of the key points of the case that the attorney made was that only a portion of the overall facility would be utilized for manufacture, with the remaining used for storage, office, and mercantile. The latter 3 uses being perfectly suited for B-C, and represented a majority of the square footage. While the manufacturing aspect wasn't pure incidental use, the local zoning provisions did allow for up to 10% manufacturing space within a B-C. What it boiled down to was that the existing zoning code was not suitable to characterize a unique mixed use business such as a craft distillery, and that the B-C zone is actually more suitable than heavy. The other flip-side of his argument was that mercantile/retail was also prohibited in the H2/H3 heavy zones, so simply moving into another zone doesn't resolve the mixed use issue.

Hope this helps, but I'd still recommend the attorney, and of course the devil is in the details. Let me know if you want a copy of our use variance and zoning board meeting minutes. Although I am from Jersey, your zoning guy might take one look at it and laugh you out of town.

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Wow, I feel very lucky when I read some of the issues people have had with this kind of stuff. My locals grouped me in with "wineries and related businesses" . I'm zoned agriculture. I'm lucky to live in wine country, and that the local enforcement just lumped me in with them. Conditional use permits can get very expensive very quick, with no guarantee.

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James thank you for the reply, it is truly helpful!

I found a few references this morning while doing some research. One I found was in reference to Portland's zoning laws where they list exceptions to manufacturing type business's. I may be able to present the city this type of proposal since we will be mostly retail sales to the public with limited distribution right away. In addition to that I found examples in a few other states classifying distilleries as retail sales/Business Commercial.

Here is the exception

  1. Exceptions.
    1. Manufacturing of goods to be sold primarily on-site and to the general public are classified as Retail Sales And Service.

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/53501

Thanks again for the replies!

MM

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We are in an MU-1 zone, or mixed use. It covers everything from light manufacturing, retail, or even residential. In that category, though, all of our product needed to be sold on-site. We had to enter Craft Distilleries (along with small wineries and breweries) into the Land Development Code in a way that created more rights (distribution in particular) for that and similar zoning. The city was supportive as they wanted us there and it helped them make a better code (at our modest cost). If they want you, they will find a way to help you alter the code. Ask them what paths there are and go from there.

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Now he seemed interested in finding a way to get approval. He suggested that the best way is to find an example of another town that classified a distillery other than light manufacturing or industrial, and provide documentation.

MontanaMule - I posted these links in response to another topic in this category so I apologize for the repost here but they may be relevant to the particular question you posted above. We used these references in an information packet that we presented to our local zoning board while seeking zoning permission to locate our distillery in a commercial zone. The local township originally suggested we would need to locate in a light industrial zone even though we had zeroed in on a building in a commercial zone. We were subsequently granted a "Use by right" permit to open in the commercial zone. I think ultimately it depends on how willing the local municipality is in hosting a distillery - in our case they were very interested and the process was pretty painless.

Hope these help!
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  • 1 month later...

We've been jammed up by this as well in my town in Pennsylvania. I can always get one of the two uses, but never both, even if it's a Business zoning and such. We haven't enlisted a lawyer yet, but that's the next round if we really want to push it. I'm actually an Architect and not being able to get the home town to bend at all has been very frustrating. Wine country is about 30 minutes away, but unfortunately, that's not where our land is. That direction it would be quite easy.

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