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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Planner reviews potential sites for distillery

Friday, March 28, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A day after the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals declined to issue a special-use permit so a distillery could be established in Axton, the county’s planning director was reviewing other possible locations for the business.

“The company indicated they are interested in looking at other available buildings around the county,” Lee Clark, director of planning, zoning and inspections, said of Dry Fork Fruit Distillery LLC.

“I’m just compiling a list based on their building and location needs. It appeared that they’ve had some difficulty” with other possible sites because they were near churches or religious facilities, Clark said. “Maybe the company needs to start looking at some properties where that won’t be an issue.”

The limited liability corporation, represented by William T. Willis and Vincent Puccio, had sought a special use permit to locate on 11 acres at 12351 Chatham Road, Axton, to produce a variety of fruit-flavored whiskeys.

But the BZA nixed that request Wednesday after hearing objections from several residents, some of whom were affiliated with churches in the area.

Blackberry District Supervisor Jim Adams was on the BZA before he was elected to the Henry County Board of Supervisors in 2001. A quasi-judicial independent board, the BZA has a number of issues to consider when deciding the fate of special-use permits, Adams said.

BZA members have to determine “what is the benefit to the community and the adjoining landowners; whether or not it (the request) fits within what’s going on around it; whether there would be an increase in traffic; how it affects the public welfare; and if it’s detrimental from a moral standpoint,” Adams said.

In a letter of application to the county, company officials addressed many of those issues.

According to the letter, the company would invest $175,000 in what was the former Marlowe’s Body Shop & Sales — a building that now is unoccupied — and initially would hire four employees. That number was expected to double within a year, the letter stated.

The manufacturing operation essentially would be a craft distillery as allowed under the Virginia Right to Farm Act, the letter stated. It also would pay taxes to the county from sales tax as well as machinery and tools taxes, according to the letter.

A federal permit limits the amount of whiskey the company could produce to 5,000 gallons annually, the application stated.

At least 51 percent of the grains used in the manufacturing process would be grown on a nearby farm, and the stills would use propane to fuel burners and be equipped with proper ventilation, the letter stated. Waste products — all of which are biodegradable — would be sold to an area dairy farm for animal feed supplement, the application stated.

The company stated it did not anticipate noise levels to rise or traffic to be impacted during its Monday-through-Friday manufacturing operation. The company stated it would not be open on Sundays.

The company has the right to appeal the BZA’s decision to Henry County Circuit Court, but Clark said he does not think officials will do that.

“I’m ready to continue talking about other buildings,” Clark said. “A small business like this, in my opinion, is something that we ought to try to help be successful.”

Clark said that he does not mind the additional task of “helping to find other properties for a small business to consider .... I kind of view that as part of my job” and a way to help grow the local economy.

Willis and Puccio could not be reached for comment.


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