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St. Charles County Council clears the way for ‘brewhouse’ at Blue Heron Polo Club

William Busch, owner of Kraft Brewery and the Blue Heron Polo Club, is sworn in with member of his development team at the St. Charles County Planning Commission Meeting on Oct. 17 [Brian Flinchpaugh/file photo]

A proposed “brewhouse” and distillery in southwestern St. Charles County now is set to become a reality.

The County Council has approved two conditional use permits needed for that to happen. The permits were approved at the council’s Nov. 26 meeting but not before councilmembers discussed further restrictions on the brewery and possible changes to how the county handles conditional use permits in the future.

The council vote followed a planning commission vote in October that recommended approval of the 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 small-scale brewing and a tasting room for new beer releases. The council held a public hearing on the permits at its Nov. 13 meeting but took no action then.

At several planning and zoning commission meetings in September and October and at the council’s Nov. 13 hearing, community members voiced both support of and opposition to the permits.

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.

Councilmembers, county staff and residents also met with Busch and his staff at other meetings to further develop conditions that the applicant had to meet to get council approval. The resulting substitute bills include those conditions, particularly for the larger property that includes a new 25,000-square-foot, German barn-style beer hall with a maximum height of 31. The beer hall would be available for special events such as weddings and private parties.

Councilmember Mike Klinghammer [District 6] made a motion to amend the substitute bill so that the beer hall and event venue would operate from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and closed on Mondays. Those were the hours of operation originally submitted when the permit request was first filed with the county.

The substitute bill allows the venue to be open until 10 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and until to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Klinghammer said closing earlier would address a major concern of residents; however, his motion was rejected. Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 1], who made a motion for approval for the substitute bill, said the hours in the original bill were unfair.

“Anyone who has run that type of business would know you can’t run a business like a restaurant, brewery or winery with requirements that it has to lose at 8 o’clock,” Brazil said. “There is not one business in this county that has that kind of restrictions. You can’t sit here and give a guy zoning approval but then give him all the restrictions to fail. It’s just not fair.

Micheal Hurlbert, director of the county’s community development department, told councilmembers that the county also might not be able to monitor waste or well water – another concern of some residents – because county staff does not have the expertise and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has jurisdiction over such monitoring.

Before its vote, the council closed off any further public comment upon advice from the county’s legal counsel. While several councilmembers weren’t happy, County Executive Steve Ehlmann said the council could make a decision because it had held a public hearing earlier.

“You’re acting as judges now,” Ehlmann said. He said throwing the process open now risks having the losing side taking a conditional use permit before a judge’s review and possibly overturning their [the council’s] decision.

Both permits were approved with Klinghammer casting several no votes.

“The CUP [conditional use permit] that we’re operating under now does not work for the way we want to conduct business,” Klinghammer said in his opposition to closing public comment. Brazil agreed but added that, for now, the council has to follow advice from its legal counsel.

Some residents also were not happy with the conditional use permit process.

Steve Sommerkamp, whose property borders Busch’s property and who spoke during the regular public portion of the council meeting after the permits were approved, said from the very beginning citizens were “put in a disadvantaged position.”

Anytime a conditional use permit comes before the council it should prove its worth, he said. It should be able to prove it can go in an area it really wasn’t designed for, he added. Instead, citizens had to defend themselves when they had a concern.

“The details really matter in a project like that,” Sommerkamp said. “What happens with waste and water and traffic and noise have such a big impact and yet they were kind of glossed over in my opinion. That really disappoints me and it disappoints me because that seems to be the way this government operates,” Sommerkamp said.

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