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County BZA rejects request

Thursday, March 27, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on Wednesday rejected a special use permit request from Dry Fork Fruit Distillery LLC.

The proposed site for the distillery was 12351 Chatham Road, Axton, the location of the former Marlowe’s Body Shop & Sales.

The proposal for the distillery was brought before the board by William T. Willis and Vincent Puccio, who hoped to obtain a special use agricultural distillery permit to allow them to produce a variety of fruit-infused whiskeys at the site.

According to Puccio, who spoke to the board and answered members’ questions, Puccio and Willis had obtained a federal permit allowing them to produce up to 5,000 gallons of fruit-flavored whiskey a year with an anticipated output of 11 gallons per day during their hours of operation, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

In response to questions from the board, Puccio said that per state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) guidelines, the whiskey produced would be sold only on-site. Although the distillery legally would be allowed to have tastings on-site, Puccio said, neither he nor Willis had any intention of doing that.

Additionally, he said, he did not anticipate any significant impact to traffic on Chatham Road, as the site would not be receiving shipments delivered by tractor-trailers. All waste products generated by the distilling process, he said, are biodegradable and would be sold to a local dairy farm for use as a feed supplement for dairy cows.

Eight people spoke in opposition to the permit, including Noel Garrett, Michael Johnston, Jody Pollard, Morris Gauldin, Garrett Kendrick, Starlette Nuckles, Bob Ashby and Tim Maness.

All either are residents of Chatham Road or members and clergy of nearby Valley Chapel Pentecostal Holiness Church or County Line Church. About 40 members from both churches attended the meeting.

Although all who spoke said they did not have any animosity toward either Puccio or Willis, they said they did not want a distillery in their community, citing religious objections and concerns that the distillery would be a target of crime. Additionally, several said they were concerned that students from nearby Hope Academy, which is part of County Line Church, would be exposed to the distillery.

Following the objections, BZA member Paul Setliff said that although the board’s decisions deal with land uses, the code it adheres to offers some latitude for the board to consider community objections based on moral grounds and general welfare concerns.

“We know (Willis and Puccio) had been turned down (for a similar permit) in Pittsylvania County,” Setliff said. “I don’t know the particulars on it, but I do know that (there) was a church involved. It looks to me like they’re running into opposition from the religious community. Maybe the reasons they were turned down in Pittsylvania County were different than our reasons ... but the common denominator is trying to put this type of establishment near a religious atmosphere.”

Setliff made a motion to reject the permit. The motion passed unanimously, which was met with applause from the audience.

Also at the county Board of Zoning Appeals’ meeting at the Henry County Administration Building, the board rejected a special use permit request from Larry D. Esters and Brenda E. Esters.

The request was for a permit to hold a summer camp for children aged 6-14 to be constructed on Summer Lane, which is off of Clyde Prillaman Street in the Horsepasture District.

The board unanimously rejected the request based on concerns regarding traffic and water and sewer accessibility.


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