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Homer City council approves zoning change for distillery

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 8:41 p.m.

Homer City borough council ended months of impassioned debate about a potential microdistillery on Main Street, voting unanimously Tuesday to amend its zoning code to include “craft distillery establishment” as a permitted use in commercial zones.

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

With the passage of the ordinance, 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 location adjacent to the Homer City United Methodist Church generated controversy because 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 require federal and state licenses before it can open.

Council president Richard Morris limited public comment to new information, citing numerous opportunities for opponents to speak at previous sessions of council and the planning commission.

The Rev. Joe Stains asked officials if they understood the 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 said. “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 there will be federal and state inspections before the distillery opens. “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, 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.

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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