Zoning decision split
An Oxford man with a 200-year-old family recipe and a brand-new dream will have to navigate a way forward from a Henderson zoning board’s split decision Monday on his idea to develop a whisky distillery on Williams Street.
Joseph Goolsby would like to hire 20 workers in the near term for a micro-distillery at 1034 Williams St., then maybe grow bigger than that in the future.
The board approved, by 4-1 vote, a special use permit for Goolsby to move forward with federal permit and safety certifications. Sara Coffey, a city councilwoman, was the lone dissenting vote.
In a vote requesting variance from minimum setback requirements to locate in a building that is among others used for manufacturing purposes in the past, the board did not give approval. Coffey and Tom Badger voted against, three members voted for the variance, and four votes were needed for approval.
Two board members were not present.
The buildings, too close to fit the city’s current code requirements for manufacturing and industrial uses, were built and used before variance requirements became part of the city code.
“My family has been doing moonshine for 10 generations, and I am hoping to do so legally,” Goolsby said. “I have a 200-year-old family recipe. Many people don’t know that to make good whisky you have to start with good beer.”
Questions from members of the Henderson Zoning Board of Adjustment included fire, health and employee safety concerns that Goolsby answered with deep insight about how illegal operations have been dangerous in the past, producing a product with alcohol types that are not safe to drink.
“My still would be certified safe before I ever turn on the lights to start,” Goolsby said.
He said that stills set up with improper heating mechanisms, lacking regulators and make-shift valve seals or tops can create vapor buildup hazards and yield results that do not include the right fermentation process.
Goolsby said before he can start hiring, he has 27 departments of the federal government to deal with.
“You can’t get a license until you build the distillery,” he said. “It is going to take a while to get going. Many micro distilleries start out with 20 people and grow from there.”
Goolsby said with state ABC laws favoring the placement of local and state products in their stores, he sees a green light to market a local assortment that one day would include apple brandy, white lightning, gin and vodka in addition to his whisky product.
“I think I have a pretty good chance at putting a product out into market,” he said. “If I can put my recipe in the market, I know it would sell. If I get my product on the shelves, I believe I will be able to bring jobs and tax revenue to this city.”
Coffey turned a skeptical eye toward the brewery plan, asking about Goolsby’s observations of prisoners at the Butner federal facility where he works.
“You see how many people are in prison because of alcohol related crimes,” Coffey said. “Yet, here you are wanting to run a distillery for alcoholic beverages. I don’t understand how you would do that.”
Henderson Fire Chief Danny Wilkerson responded to fire safety questions by the zoning board, indicating to them that the distillery would be a category of manufacturing that handles potentially hazardous combustible liquids and vapors.
He said given other federal safety requirements, “I think that in a brick structure and with a sprinkler system that is up to code, it would be OK.”
Wilkerson added that proper exits need to be present when employment work begins.
“If the building that he is going to be operating in is and will be sprinklered properly, then that’s fine,” board chairman Arline Richardson said.
Badger said the city needed to abide by its current code.
“The guy has a plant there, he needs to have space between buildings,” Badger said. “That’s the rules we run by. What’s the use of having variance requirements if we’re not going to keep to them?”
Goolsby questioned city department staff about the variance issue, and what it means. He was told to bring questions to city staff for further advice on what options he and the property owner may have regarding those requirements.
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