Bourbon industry pushes back on court’s move for a 90-day zoning moratorium

Judge-Executive Tim Hutchins defended his proposed 90-day zoning moratorium regarding bourbon industry-related projects.

Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Tuesday, April 18, 2023 — Following feedback from members of the Nelson County bourbon industry, Nelson Fiscal Court voted Tuesday night to rescind the court’s first reading of a 90-day moratorium blocking all zoning approvals on bourbon industry-related projects.

The court gave the first approval of the zoning moratorium at a special meeting Friday morning. But that meeting agenda omitted a public comment period when it should have had one, creating a potential Open Meetings violation. Additionally, Judge-Executive Tim Hutchins read a letter of support into the record at Friday’s meeting, which amounted to adding public comment despite its absence from the agenda. County Attorney Chip McKay noted that he had failed to look over the letter and didn’t realize it amounted to public comment when it was not on the Friday meeting agenda.

Due to this mistake, the court voted to rescind the first reading vote on the moratorium it took on Friday.

Max Shapira, executive chairman of Heaven Hill Brands, speaks to Nelson Fiscal Court at Tuesday night’s meeting.

INDUSTRY PUSHBACK. Max Shapira, the executive chairman of Heaven Hill Brands, noted his family’s businesses has been involved in the community for nearly 100 years, and have been partners with the community through both good times and bad.

“As we have grown together, we have decided to keep our roots in Nelson County and invest here because this is our home.”

The proposed moratorium threatens long-standing partnerships and economic growth that the Shapira family has built over the last century, he said.

“We are disappointed — and quite frankly, shocked — by the recent efforts to abruptly stop the many bourbon projects that are being planned,” Shapira said. “It leads me to wonder if indeed, Bardstown wants to continue to be called ‘The Bourbon Capital of the World.””

Shapira asked the magistrates to consider the long-term and short-term implications the moratorium may have on the community’s economic development and reject the moratorium.

Log Still owner Wally Dant, said he has invested $80 million to bring a distillery back to southern Nelson County, and by doing so, bring more people to visit Nelson County.

Dant said he wouldn’t stand for being vilified and called “greedy.”

“I haven’t made a damn dime in four years down there,” he said. “Not a damn dime. But yet you call us greedy.

Magistrates Jon Snow, left, and Jeff Lear.

“To be here three months after you get elected and have discussions like this, its really just disappointing …. disappointing and mean-spirited.”

Bardstown attorney Jim Willett asked the court to engage in meaningful discussions with the bourbon industry to find solutions without taking action that could harm the industry and its many local partners.

Former county engineer Jim Lemiuex said the moratorium basically was stopping the bourbon business for 90 days.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “I don’t know if you know the impact of a three-month moratorium.”

HUTCHINS ON DEFENSE. Following the public comments, Hutchins took time to defend his desire for the moratorium and suggested that it was the bourbon industry who has failed to communicate with county government, particularly in regard to the Kentucky General Assembly approval of House Bill 5, legislation that removed the barrel tax.

“The lack of communication isn’t coming from my side,” Hutchins said. “I just want to make that real clear.”

Hutchins said that in 2015, the county’s zoning regulations made bourbon warehouses an acceptable use of tracts of 100 acres or more when zoned agricultural. As the regulations now stand, a distillery can buy 100 acres or more and begin building warehouses without giving the public a chance to comment, he said.

Following Tuesday’s vote to rescind Friday’s initial approval of the moratorium, Magistrate Jeff Lear suggested that the court slow its pace to reconsider the wording it wants to approve.

“I’m going to suggest we take some time on this,” he said. “I don’t see the hurry. Let’s get the wording right, let’s talk about it, take a breath and relax. The decisions we make are going to affect us for a long, long time.”

Magistrate M.T. Harned agreed with Lear, and the court voted unanimously to table the moratorium until the next meeting in May.


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