Craft brewers and distillers got a long-awaited boost Monday when the Augusta Planning Commission finalized code amendments allowing small breweries and distilleries in business zones.
The amendments create new categories of “nano-“ and “pico-“ breweries and distilleries, smaller than traditional microbreweries and distilleries, which will be allowed with a special permit in business zones.
Postponed several times, the amendments appear just in time for state law changes going in effect Sept. 1 that will allow small brewers and distillers to sell packaged beer and liquor over the counter, in limited amounts.
The approval drew contrasting reviews from Augusta’s two existing microbreweries, which were required to open in an industrial zone a few blocks from downtown because the current planning code considers brewing and distilling as an industrial operation, regardless of the amount of beverage being made.
“Given the amount of change that is looking at happening in the downtown area, and the amount of growth that the city and the commission are hoping to achieve, Riverwatch Brewery does not have an issue in having a nanobrewery in the B2 zoning area,” owner Brey Sloan said at the meeting.
Savannah River Brewing Company brewmaster Graydon Brown said he had hoped the planning commission would maintain the existing code that required his company to locate in a light industrial zone.
“Have them come out and join us where we are,” Brown said.
The city’s discussion had touched on creating a “brewery district” around the Fifth Street area where the two breweries are located, planning and development manager Brendon Cunningham said, although Sloan said she wasn’t “all that enthusiastic” about having more brewer neighbors in the area.
The amendments define a nanobrewery as making up to 3,000 barrels of beer per year, the equivalent of 992,000 12-ounce bottles. A picobrewery can make up to 500 barrels, or about 27,556 six-packs.
Neither definition includes a food component. Brewpubs, which are already allowed, can make up to 10,000 barrels per year but must make half their money from food sales.
Planning Commission member Brandon Garrett said he was pleased the commission was presented a finalized ordinance it could approve Monday.
“I think it will be good for Augusta,” Garrett said. “I think it’s going to add a lot of diversity to downtown that we haven’t seen.”
The amendments, along with similar definitions for smaller-scale nanodistilleries and picodistilleries, allow nano- and pico- versions in the B2 or general business zone, which most of downtown Augusta is. Picobreweries will also be allowed in the lighter-impact “neighborhood business” zones.
Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams, who serves as an ex-officio member of the planning commission, questioned why the planning processes took so long. The city commission first raised the issue last December.
“I don’t why it took so long today to do what we did,” Williams said after the two-hour meeting.
Commissioner Sean Frantom, who pushed for the changes, said he does not expect commission approval to take as much time.
“The planning commission spent six months on this issue and looked at everything from water usage to touring a facility,” Frantom said. “I’m excited to move (it) forward to the commission.
Frantom said he expects the commission to vote on the amendments later this month.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.