7 22 Three Oaks Welter

Bill Welter talks during the July 14 Three Oaks Village Council meeting.

THREE OAKS — The conditional rezoning of 18.25 acres adjacent to Journeyman Distillery at 109 Generations Dr. to make way for a whiskey barrel storage and aging facility (known as a “rickhouse”) with an attached event space, a tasting room, a bottling and distribution building, and recreational amenities such as walking paths and pickle ball courts, was approved by the Three Oaks Village Council during its July 14 meeting.

A detailed site plan for the proposed Journeyman additions must still be approved by the Village Planning Commission.

Prior to Village Council discussion and a 7-0 “yes” vote, a series of citizens spoke about the conditional rezoning request.

Comments included:

Jason Milovich said “I have been here long enough to see a town that was bankrupt, and the downtown that was anything but thriving, and now I see places like the Journeyman and Froehlich’s among others that have brought our town back on the map.” Milovich said he feels the proposal ultimately is “good for the downtown.”

Suzanna Bierwirth said she wants to see the village united, not divided.

Ray Barskus said he thinks Journeyman Distillery had a huge hand in turning things around for the positive in Three Oaks and said he supports the conditional rezoning request “for the economic and job benefits that it provides to this community.”

Peggy Zekel said she can remember when most of the storefronts were empty, adding that Froehlich’s and the Acorn Theater “were the two staples” that helped make Three Oaks a thriving community. “And Journeyman was definitely a part of that,” she added.

Tom Balich (who has worked at Journeyman for nine years) said “I’m very excited for this plan,” adding that a rickhouse and a bottling facility are needed improvements.

Tom Pauly said he thinks the proposal could be very good for the village of Three Oaks, adding that he has a few concerns such as seeing a walking path from the area in question leading to Elm Street and wanting to know how traffic will get to the new facilities.

Nancy Hertel said she is “somewhat concerned about the impact on the village without further study of the proposal,” including safety issues related to vehicles turning by the railroad tracks, the impact on the village lagoon system, parking, and potential noise from the facility. “I’m not saying that I’m against the proposal, what I’m saying is I that think those things should be done before you enter into a conditional rezoning agreement.”

Chuck Sittig, president of the Region of Three Oaks Museum Board, said “we have written a letter of support” for the proposal which includes concerns in areas such as parking, potential street design, sidewalks and walkability.

Journeyman Distillery owner Bill Welter later noted that the front of bottles produced by the distillery say “Three Oaks, Michigan.”

“Joanna (his wife) and I, we put our heart and soul into this business, we’ve pretty much worked non-stop for the last 10 years to get it where it is and we’re extremely proud of Three Oaks,” Welter said. “We don’t want to stop. We want to have that Three Oaks name around the country and around the world.”

Welter said Journeyman had increased the number of states it distributes its products in from 19 last year to 30.

He told village officials they would work to address concerns in areas such as parking and road access.

The conditional rezoning approved by the Village Council on July 14 mirrored a request OK’d 4-1 by the Village Planning Commission during a June 16 special meeting.

Under the rezoning, approximately 17 acres of the parcel would be changed from the R-1 Single Family Residential District to MU-2 General Mixed Use for the proposed Journeyman Distillery 7,500-barrel capacity whiskey storage and aging facility (potentially the first Kentucky-style rickhouse in Michigan) along with attached event space (to be used primarily for weddings) and other recreational features such as walking paths, pickle ball and bocce ball courts. Planning Commission Consultant Rebecca Harvey said other requested uses include a paved parking area, a mechanical utility space, and “a golf pro shop to serve expansion on unrelated property.”

The remaining 1.265 acres (the southeast portion of the affected property near a village utility site on Central Avenue) would be changed from R-1 Single Family Residential to I-1 zoning for a proposed bottling and distribution building.

It was noted during the Planning Commission meeting that there will be no additional production at the distillery when the proposed Rickhouse and bottling/distribution facility are in place.

Planning Commission Chairman Gene Svebakken pointed out that the conditional rezoning is not an approval the proposed uses for the property, it just locks in the zoning if the overall plan is ultimately OK’d by the Village Council. The next step after that would be planners considering a detailed site plan.

Planning Commission Consultant Rebecca Harvey said all conditional rezoning agreements include the requirement for a special land use/site plan review. Language to that affect also was added to the motion that ultimately passed on June 16.

“The site plan is going to propose to you very specific design element,” she said.

Among the issues discussed were the hours of operation for the outdoor event area (the recreational facility would be subject to the village noise ordinance); and questions related to parking and how delivery trucks would access the distillery (which led to the exclusion of a requested easement from Central Avenue to access the bottling and distribution building in the conditional rezoning agreement).

Also on July 14, it was noted that the bidding period for applicants to see licenses to operate marijuana-related businesses in the village is scheduled for July 19-29. After that the Village Council will decide who receives licenses under the Marihuana Ordinance (the number of licenses in some areas is limited – for example there is a maximum of two retail licenses allowed under the ordinance).

A special Planning Commission meeting and public hearing was scheduled for 7 p.m. July 27 (during the Village Council meeting upstairs at Froehlich’s) to consider a marijuana-related special land use permit/preliminary site plan application for a property at 6741 West U.S. 12. – potentially bringing the number seeking retail (and in some cases additional) licenses from the village to 10.

And Village Council members approved an amendment to the parking ordinance to include the following language: “The Planning Commission may approve a parking plan with more or fewer spaces than allowed/required in consideration of documentation from the applicant that the parking proposed on the site is sufficient to meet the parking needs of the patrons and employees of the proposed use.”

The recommendation grew out of planners’ experiences with a series of retail marijuana special land use permit applications being unable to include what seemed like adequate parking for the expected number of customers and employees due to limitations imposed by the existing ordinance.

“We came to realize on the Planning Commission that the limitations of parking actually were detrimental – some of these business just need more parking spaces,” said council member Colleen Newquist (who also serves on the Planning Commission).

In other July 14 Three Oaks Village Council business:

The council adopted a non-discrimination ordinance by a 7-0 vote. Council member Joe Hinman said the new ordinance is likely to be “an attractive thing to visitors, to current residents and potential residents that there is protection and transparency in our local government.”

Council members approved a $1 per hour raise for Water/Sewer Department employee Alex Keen (who recently received an L-1 license from the state). Village Manager Dan Faulkner said Keen will be in charge of the village’s treatment lagoons, reporting and maintenance.

A committee was formed to help decide how to spend the $161,713 expected to be received from the federal American Rescue Plan. The funds have to be spent within two years of being received.

A public hearing on water rates going from $5.18 to $6.41 per thousand gallons (with other water-related fees remaining the same) was scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 11; a public budget work session was set for 9 a.m. Aug. 7 at Village Hall; and the council scheduled a marijuana assessment workshop (open to the public) for 7 p.m. July 29 at Village Hall.

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