The ability to brew beer and distill spirits outside of industrial zones continues to prove sticky in Augusta.
The revival of microbreweries and microdistilleries nationwide spawned two new breweries last year in the Garden City, but both had to open in an industrial area off Fifth Street.
Predicting a downtown boom, the Augusta Commission asked the planning commission earlier this year to make it easier for small brewers and distillers to operate.
Rather than open the door to microbreweries and microdistilleries downtown, the planning commission returned with the concept of nano- and picobreweries and distilleries, smaller operations that aren’t licensed to make as much product as their micro cousins.
Brendon Cunningham, the new planning and development services manager for the planning and development department, said last week that he lives above a downtown storefront and had to consider the breweries’ impact in the mixed-use district.
“Some of the stuff that we’ve learned is there’s a lot of waste that comes with this and you have to use a lot of water,” he said.
Under a proposal the planning commission voted to delay Monday, breweries allowed in the downtown “B2” general business zone would include nanobreweries able to produce as much as 3,000 barrels – that’s 186,000 64-ounce growlers – of beer per year, according to Cunningham’s math.
A picobrewery under the proposed code amendment could make up to 500 barrels per year, or fill up nearly 85 growlers per day. Both types of operations, as well as similar nano- and picodistilleries, permit on-site consumption as well as sales to distributors.
As of Sept. 1, when Georgia Senate Bill 85 goes into effect, all will permit over-the-counter sales of up to a certain amount.
Those sales at new breweries – as well as a small distillery interested in moving downtown – will have to wait until Augusta approves the ordinance change.
“I thought it would have been done by now,” said Commissioner Sean Frantom, a proponent of allowing the venues downtown.
Though Augusta hasn’t had one in years, brewpubs – restaurants that brew and serve beer – have long been legal and able to make up to 10,000 barrels annually, as long as 50 percent of their sales is from food.
To locate in business zones, the breweries and distilleries require an application for a special zoning exception that goes through the planning commission and Augusta Commission for approval, as most alcohol-related decisions do.
Picobreweries and brewpubs can also open in less developed B-1 general business zones.
The proposal chafed one Augusta brewer, Dave Ellison of Savannah River Brewing Co. He said his firm’s feedback had been ignored by city staff.
Though his facility has the capacity to make more, “that definition of nano is essentially us,” Ellison said. “They’re allowing it to be in areas we were not allowed to go.”
A microbrewery can make and sell up to 15,000 barrels per year – that’s 4.96 million bottles – and Ellison said he’ll have to increase his production to compete with the downtown breweries.
One planning commissioner, Sonny Pittman, said the commission had worked for months on the amendments and believes that either existing brewery could open a satellite site downtown, and that at least one intends to.
Pittman’s motion to approve the amendments, however, did not receive a second, and the commission pushed it forward to an August meeting, leaving a smaller window until state law allows on-premises retail sales. The planning commission also delayed approving the amendments in May.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.