Local News

Story published: 02-20-2014 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Future downtown distillery clears next hurdle

By Meghan McCoy
Staff Writer

Stephen Callahan, who hopes to open a distillery in downtown Jonesborough later this year, received nearly the full support of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen during an ordinance’s first reading last week — minus one vote.

Alderman Homer G’Fellers voted against the ordinance, he said, because of personal beliefs.

“I have never voted for any type of alcohol in the Town of Jonesborough,” he said.

G’Fellers said he believes a small quaint town like Jonesborough does not need a distillery business. That belief, he said, has nothing to do with the distillery itself or Callahan.

Despite G’Fellers’ vote, however, Callahan was pleased with the Feb. 10 meeting’s results.

“We are really excited that we got the blessing of the mayor and the aldermen,” Callahan said the next day. “We are really happy with last night’s outcome. That is a big victory, and it makes me feel a lot better personally to know the board has supported this.”

The board’s approval, Callahan said, reassured him and his supporters that they are doing something possible and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel in regard to opening a distillery in town.

The BMA approved an ordinance that creates a Distilling Company Overlay Zone, as well as an amendment for the Jonesborough Zoning map. The map provides Callahan with the opportunity to submit a site plan when applying for state and federal permits.

Although the state allows for the manufacturing of wine or liquor, the town determines where a distillery can be located within town limits. An overlay zone is established for appropriate locations by the town for retail liquor stores.

“This is not about a specific venue yet,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe said. “It’s about a zone to allow the venue to exist.”

Callahan has been working with Doug Lowrie, the owner of the Salt House, for the craft distillery business location.

“It will allow Doug and I to continue to finalize the formal lease agreements,” he said of the board’s decision. “It gives me a piece of mind knowing that Jonesborough is going to support us.”

According to the Town of Jonesborough, the intent of the Distilling Overlay District is to “provide suitable locations for the possible operation of a distilling company meeting all state and federal requirements that legally manufactures and sells intoxicating liquors within the corporate limits of the Town of Jonesborough.” The purpose, according to town documents, is to enhance the local economy, while increasing the town’s potential, all while ensuring the safety and welfare of visitors and residents.

A distilling company can be located in the overlay zone if the manufacturing building is 500 feet away from an active church or school or 150 feet away if located in a central business district.

In order to be located in the overlay zone, a submitted site plan including the availability of parking; adequate pedestrian access; schematic of the building; an odor control plan and a business plan must be submitted to the Jonesborough Regional Planning Commission for approval.

Approval is also required from the Historic Zoning Commission, if the building is located in the historic district, for exterior building improvements and signage. Before a regular certificate of occupancy is issued, a landscape plan must be submitted to the Tree and Townscape Board.

The Jonesborough Regional Planning Commission will also review and approve the site plan and use of the property.

Alderman Chuck Vest said a distillery is a good opportunity for downtown, possibly establishing something that would grow in years to come.

Callahan said he now has the business license and is starting to pursue the legal paperwork as far as bonds and permits from the federal and state government. He said as soon as he obtains the federal permits, the ball will really start rolling for the business.

“It’s becoming more of a reality every day,” he said of his dream of creating an authentic Tennessee moonshine distillery.

Callahan said within the next month he hopes to start ordering equipment for the distillery.

“This is my hometown,” he said of Jonesborough. “I feel really honored to bring a unique business to my hometown.”

His hope is to put the best legally made Tennessee moonshine on liquor store shelves across America.

“We are going to be a professional business and operate in a professional manner in respect to the town,” Callahan said. “We are trying to bring a quality, sophisticated distillery into the Town of Jonesborough. We are hardworking people taking a leap of faith and will hopefully have something to be proud of.”

The ordinance will become effective after the passage of the second and final reading takes place.