The commission voted at its Oct. 17 to recommend permits needed to allow a small brewery, distillery, restaurant, museum, gift shop, indoor and outdoor beer halls, tours and an animal petting area on property owned by William K. Busch at 4151 Benne Road near Defiance. The property is known as the Blue Heron Polo Club.
One permit would allow multiple uses on 184.08 acres. The other permit would allow an existing metal building on three acres of an adjacent 64-acre tract to be used for a small-scale brewing and tasting room for new beer releases.
The multiple uses envisioned for the larger property would house a new 25,000-square-foot structure with a maximum height of 31 feet and patterned after German, barn-style architecture. The beer hall would be available for special events such as weddings and private parties.
The commission voted 7-0-1 to approve the permit for the larger property and 7-1 to recommend approval of the permit for the smaller tract. Commissioner Gary Griffin abstained on the first vote; Commissioner Kevin Cleary voting against the second measure. Commissioner Craig Frahm was absent.
The commission’s recommendations now go on to the full County Council, which has the final decision on conditional use permits. The council’s next meeting is Oct. 29.
The decisions were made after a lengthy four-hour meeting that featured public comment for and against the permits, and included a series of conditions that the applicant has to meet for the permits to be adopted.At the Oct. 17 meeting and one that preceded it in September, opponents – mostly neighbors living near the Busch property – raised questions about traffic on local roads, noise levels from the restaurants and activities, bright lighting, impacts on local water supplies and waste treatment, odors and whether the brewery would destroy the character and ambiance of a largely residential and rural area.
Supporters lauded Busch’s desire to preserve the rural nature of the area and the attractiveness of the proposed brewery and restaurant.
Prior to the Oct. 17 meeting, neighbors, the applicant, county planning staff and Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] met to try to work out their differences.
After that discussion, Busch agreed to limit harsh and bright lighting; allow an odor and noise analysis by an engineering firm; include a signed letter from a registered hydrologist and geologist, before site plan approval, that drilling and use of a water well won’t have a negative effect on area residents; show that the development is in compliance wastewater effluent treatment measures; have no outdoor storage; limit tours to parcels included in the larger conditional use permit; limit occupancy of the interior space to 250 people; and cut hours back from an 11 p.m. closing for the beer hall and restaurant.
The second conditional use permit would allow the use of an existing metal building for a limited period until after the brewery is completed.
Commissioners and neighbors strongly suggested that a private skeet shooting site on the property not be used as part of the development, which Busch’s staff said they hadn’t considered.
Councilmember Mike Klinghammer [District 6], the council’s representative on the commission, said he would vote against the permit request if the skeet site was suggested because firearms and alcoholic beverages don’t mix well and shotguns are noisy. However, Klinghammer said he could not write the language in a bill to prohibiting the use of the skeet site, which allows the applicant to file a conditional use permit to allow some future use.
Who would pay for any road improvements on nearby roads and Hwy. DD was left answered. Klinghammer said a traffic study that may help answer that question will be completed before the council takes up the conditional use permits.
Those points and others were brought up by neighbors during the public hearing. Most of the about a dozen speakers were concerned about aspects of the development that may harm their quality of life. Some also questioned recent zoning changes that would allow a brewery in the agriculturally zoned area.
The council approved a bill on July 6 amending the county’s unified development ordinance [UDO] allowing one or more buildings for the brewing of beer or cider or distilling of spirits with consumption on site and at wedding or receptions for private parties. Within an agricultural zoning district, a brewhouse, however, requires a conditional use permit. Neighbors worry that the UDO change does what it should not do – harm nearby residents.
Steve Sommerkamp, whose property borders Busch’s property, questioned the county community development staff’s work on the application.
“Why was this done? Why was the UDO ordinance changed for an applicant at the expense of citizens?” Sommerkamp asked. “Why has there not been any critical questions by staff on this project? All the critical questions have come from citizens and from commissioners.”
The UDO changes don’t provide much to protect citizens, he said. “This was the only protection that was allowed for citizens, the opportunity to speak.”
Cindy Strutman, another nearby resident said the development may impact the tranquility of the area and lower property values.
“We all live on 3- to 10-acre parcels of land. On very quiet nights we can hear our neighbors talking,” Strutman said. “Can you imagine what we will hear from the brewhouse next door?”
But Matthew Settlemoir, of Defiance, and other residents spoke in support.
“It would be unique to the area,” Settlemoir said. “It’s not a winery, it’s a brewhouse, and we don’t have anything like that. I’m a beer guy, not a big wine guy. I like the idea.”