Homer City council approves zoning change for distillery

| Friday, May 10, 2013, 3:27 p.m.

The Homer City Borough Council ended months of impassioned debate about a potential microdistillery on Main Street during Tuesday night's meeting. The panel voted unanimously to pass an ordinance amending the borough's zoning code to include “craft distillery establishment” in the list of “uses by right” in commercial zones.

The borough's planning commission voted 4-0 on April 23 to recommend the change.

With the passage of Ordinance No. 489, the borough effectively cleared the way for Indiana University of Pennsylvania geography professor Bob Sechrist and his retired colleague Bob Begg to finalize their purchase of the former Runzo grocery store building at 30 S. Main Street for use as a small-scale distillery.

The site has generated controversy due to its location next to the Homer City United Methodist Church. The church plays host to weekly Celebrate Recovery meetings for individuals struggling with substance abuse, addictions and other challenges.

Begg and Sechrist said the building will require major renovations to meet state building codes, including a new sprinkler system and new interior walls. The distillery, Disobedient Spirits, will also require federal and state licenses before it can open for business.

Council President Richard Morris limited public comment to new information, citing the numerous opportunities for the public to voice opinions on the proposed distillery at previous council and planning commission meetings.

“If it's repetitive and it's been repeated at the other two meetings, I'm not going to entertain it,” he said of arguments regarding Disobedient Spirits.

Rev. Joe Stains of Homer City United Methodist Church asked council members whether they understood his group's objections to the distillery plan and whether they had received petitions circulated throughout Homer City and surrounding communities opposing the business.

“Every concern that you have voiced has not fallen on deaf ears,” Morris insisted. “I want you to know that these gentlemen have given us a wonderful plan, and if they do anything short, which is a violation of state laws, they will be recognized and correct it immediately or there will be other issues that will arise. What we're giving them right now, through the voice of the public overall consensus, is that we're giving them an opportunity.”

Morris also pointed out that federal and state inspectors will review the distillery before it can open.

“If they go according to plan, this should not create any havoc or unruly conditions,” he said. “And if it does, I can promise you, we will address those issues as we would any other business.”

In other business, council:

• Awarded the contract for a paving project on Columbia Avenue to Quaker Sales of Johnstown, which was the lowest of four bidders at a cost of $37,242.50.

• Learned from borough manager Rob Nymick that MGK Technologies, Inc. has expressed willingness to allow the borough to use a portion of its property to move the Hoodlebug Trail away from Route 56.

• Tabled action regarding a traffic study that determined the borough would need to either upgrade or remove the traffic signal at Main and Elm streets in favor of four-way stop signs. Upgrading the light, Nymick said, would cost the borough roughly $250,000.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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