Camden officials OK distillery
By GORDON JACKSON The Brunswick News
WOODBINE -- The Camden County Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve a special-use permit to allow the creation of a micro-distillery on Dover Bluff Road.
Commissioners tabled the issue in November after voting to amend the county Unified Development Code to add micro or craft distilleries at properties zoned agricultural-forestry that are approved for special use.
The owner of the property plans to produce a boutique liquor.
Commissioners said they wanted to review Ron Lewis' business plan before voting. They had questions about parking, whether outside storage tanks would be at the site, hours of operation, whether the building where the liquor would be produced could be expanded in size, and when and how often delivery trucks would go to the site.
Business owner Ron Lewis said his Christmas Island Distillery will attract connoisseurs, not heavy drinkers, because of the price. And most of his sales would be through the Internet, because Georgia law does not allow on-site sales.
Before the vote, Judy Rowland, a north Camden County resident, spoke in favor of granting a permit.
"Any business in north Camden County would be a plus, not only for the north part of the county but all off Camden County," she said. "I can't think of any reason why this should not happen."
Another resident, Lewis Strickland, agreed.
"It's not going to be a juke joint where a bunch of thugs hang out," Strickland said. "I'm for anything we can do in the north end of the county to help the tax base."
Stan Johnson, who lives near the site, said he was concerned about parking and that laws could change that would allow Lewis to turn the distillery into a bar.
He said a majority of residents living nearby were opposed to Lewis opening a distillery near them. His concern is the state law that prohibits on-site ales could be changed to allow sales.
Commissioner Jimmy Starline expressed concern about requiring an annual renewal of the permit. "I don't think it's fair for (Lewis) to make the investment knowing it's for 12 months at a time," he said. "I wouldn't want him to depend on the whim of this board."
Commissioner Gary Blount, who voted against the permit request along with Chuck Clark, agreed with Starline about the annual renewal requirement, noting that a special-use permit can be revoked at any time.
But Blount said he had to consider how he would feel if a micro-distillery moved into his neighborhood.
"I think it's in the wrong place," he said. "I don't think it's conducive to our future land use. I think we are creating some potential issues for Mr. Lewis, the neighborhood and ourselves."
* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or at 464-7655.