Opinion: Kudos to fiscal court for delay in approval of bourbon zoning moratorium

Nelson County Gazette

Monday, May 1, 2023 –– After hearing from representatives of our local bourbon industry — all of whom expressed alarm at the public statements and the perception of an anti-bourbon attitude of county government — Nelson Fiscal Court unanimously voted at its last meeting to delay taking any action on a moratorium to halt zoning action on bourbon warehouse projects.

Magistrates Jon Snow (left) and Jeff Lear at a recent fiscal court meeting.

In recent a conversation with District 5 Magistrate Jon Snow, he didn’t deny that the failed local efforts against House Bill 5 set the stage for a review of what’s been called the “100-acre rule” regarding bourbon warehouses.

That 2015 zoning change made bourbon warehouses an allowed use on 100 acres or more of land that was zoned agricultural. At the time, the proper zoning class for bourbon warehouses would have been I-2, Heavy Industrial. The goal of the 100-acre rule was to avoid spot zoning large tracts of land as I-2, Heavy Industry in what was the middle off other agricultural land.

One impact of House Bill 5 is that the barrel tax will be phased out over time, which will make it less profitable to local schools and governments to locate warehouses in a county.

Despite the fiery rhetoric from Judge Executive Tim Hutchins, fiscal court appears ready to take a measured, even-handed approach to reviewing bourbon zoning regulations.

Snow said that he doesn’t believe fiscal court is interested in punishing the bourbon industry for the passage of House Bill 5.

Snow said local officials spent a lot of time and energy lobbying against House Bill 5. They wanted to have conversations with local distillers, but none were forthcoming. But that was the past.

Snow said that he doesn’t believe the “100-acre rule” is fair because it allows distillers to build rickhouses without conversations with adjoining landowners.

“It singles out the bourbon industry from having a community conversation with neighbors about building rickhouses,” he said.

Snow said when he and his wife wanted to start a business on their farm, he had to go through the required processes to eventually gain that approval.

“I don’t think we should require that process from every other industry except the bourbon industry.”

For Snow, the goal of a review of the zoning for bourbon warehouses is not to make it more difficult for distillers to build needed warehouses, but to include adjacent landowners with an opportunity for input.

A moratorium will give fiscal court some time to make an intelligent decision.

Snow said that there are already some ideas for how to change the regulations that will avoid stifling the growth of the bourbon industry.

A lot of people complain about planning and zoning, but Snow defended the process and the rules. He’s generally in favor of less government in everyone’s lives, but said some regulation is needed when it comes to land use.

“Go to some of the counties without zoning and you will see why its a good thing,” he said.

NEXT UP. Nelson Fiscal Court will meet at 4 p.m. Monday afternoon for the presentation of the county budget.


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