Commission votes to allow small breweries, distilleries in business zones

The Augusta Commission ushered in a new era Tuesday for small brewers and distillers who want to do business in the city.

 

By a 10-0 vote, the commission agreed to amend the city planning code to allow small “nano-“ and “pico-“ brewers and distillers to operate in business zones such as downtown Augusta. At Commissioner Sean Frantom’s request, the commission voted to waive the second reading, which is a second vote typically required at a later date.

“It’s the first step towards making downtown Augusta more vibrant,” Frantom said. “Exciting times are ahead in downtown Augusta.”

The vote took only a few minutes but followed months of work by the city planning commission, which studied the issue extensively. The existing code considered brewing and distilling at any level an industrial activity, and Augusta’s two existing microbreweries had to locate in industrial zones.

Commissioner Bill Fennoy said downtown property owners were supportive but concerned about the odor and waste produced by brewing and distilling alcohol, and asked if the facilities will create “an odor issue in downtown Augusta.”

Planning Director Melanie Wilson said downtown infrastructure can support the facilities, which require state inspections and will produce little odor.

“The smell for a nano or pico brewery is very, very minimal,” Wilson said.

A nano brewery can make up to 3,000 barrels of beer per year, or almost one million 12-ounce bottles. A pico brewery can make up to 500 bottles under the city’s definitions. Neither type includes a food component, but brewpubs can already legally brew 10,000 barrels per year if half their revenue comes from food sales.

The code amendments arrive just in time for the Sept. 1 state law change that allows breweries and distilleries to sell packaged alcohol over the counter in small amounts, rather than serve “samples” in conjunction with a tour.

In other action Tuesday, the commission:

- Voted 7-3 to deny a request by attorney Wright McLeod to include construction and debris landfills in the city’s list of activities permitted in industrial zones. McLeod had earlier asked to delete the request, which he made on behalf of the owner of a defunct Dixon Airline Road inert landfill.

- Voted 10-0 to approve a set of “rollback” millage rates for property tax bills going out Friday. The rates resemble last year’s and include a countywide net maintenance and operations millage rate of 9.786 mills and an urban services district net millage rate of 5.225. Both are applied against each $1,000 of a property’s taxable value in addition to school system rates, capital outlay and fire protection charges.

- Received as information an audit of the Richmond County Probation Office, whose Chief Probation Officer Marie Boulton new Chief State Court Judge David Watkins recently asked to resign. Accountant Bobby Smith of Serotta Maddox Evans CPAs said internal controls at the office were strong, though some revenues were misallocated to the appropriate fee, fund or court. Where Probation suffered, however, was in meeting budgeted collection goals, he said. The audit showed probation fine collections, though up from the second two quarters of 2016, were $265,040 below the budgeted amount of $400,300 for the first quarter of 2017. City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said the Athens-Clark program on which Augusta’s is based does not require the service to break even and Augusta’s might not “in the first few years.”

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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