Council approves first filing of new microbreweries, microwineries and microdistilleries ordinance

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Spencer City Council Chambers sign

Like a bad batch of beer, some ordinances apparently are best dumped and brewed fresh.

The Spencer City Council did just that last week when it voted 5-1 to approve the first filing of a clarified ordinance that would allow microbreweries, microwineries and microdistilleries downtown and other areas as a permitted use.

The council flushed a previous version of the ordinance last month. City staff had said the ordinance needed clarified language and other improvements.

The purpose of the ordinance is to make it easier for someone to open a microbrewery, microwinery or microdistillery in downtown and other areas around Spencer.

“I think this is important to Main Street and the downtown district – and the entire central business district – to get this wording changed so that it encourages that,” Ward 1 Councilman Tom Nelson said.

Ward 5 Councilman Ron Hanson voted not to approve the ordinance. He noted that he maintains concerns he previously shared regarding the original ordiance about the residential areas of the CBD.

“I like that old system where they had to come in and get a (special exception) there,” Hanson said. “That way the neighbors all knew what was coming in, they would post it and then they would have a meeting on it with the zoning department and the neighbors in that neighborhood would have the opportunity to voice some concerns.”

He also cited what he felt were too high of production limitations. The ordinance allows for up to 10,000 barrels per year to qualify as a microbrewery or 100,000 proof gallons per year for microdistilleries. 

“To me, that’s a manufacturing business,” Hanson said.

Hanson said he was concerned someone could turn their garage or a space near their home into a microbrewery.

City Attorney Don Hemphill said he did not believe that could happen as the ordinance is written.

“This isn’t intended to permit, and I really don’t think does permit, breweries in the garage,” Hemphill said. “This regulates commercial enterprises.”

Planning Director Steve Hallgren also chimed in:

“This ordinance is not being written (with the intention of) anybody to open up a backyard brewery or making moonshine out of their garage. This is intended to promote and encourage new businesses to locate in, not only downtown, but highway commercial zoning district, the light industrial zoning district and areas in the community that are deemed appropriate by the planning and zoning commission for microbreweries.”

Hallgren said city staff looked at other communities across the state as models for the ordinance.

Unlike the first attempt, the new ordinance (PDF) includes microwinery and microdistillery alongside microbrewery as permitted uses. It also allows the businesses as permitted uses not only in the CBD, but also in the C-2 highway commercial, D light industrial and R riverfront zoning districts. 

There are also site development standards in the ordinance for the businesses that address numerous topics, including licensing and review by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division and city of Spencer, requiring related activities to be inside an enclosed building, prohibiting nuisances (odor, noise, etc.) to neighboring properties, and requiring off-street parking.

Larger-scale breweries, wineries and distilleries would be allowed as permitted uses in the E and E-1 heavy industrial districts. A special exception for those businesses could be applied for if they would wish to be located in the D light industrial district. 

The council must approve the ordinance two more times before changes to the zoning code become official.

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