Building a Distillery Part 2
Dateline May 2018
After being told “no go” on the distillery in the garage it was time to figure out what we were going to do instead. Unfortunately, this meant that a major remodel project in our house was going to have to wait as we needed to redirect those resources.
Time to reach out to county to make sure we were good. Engaged with the county Planning and Development Services folks. Friendly and helpful as they were, building a distillery on residential property was something brand new for everyone. After much back and forth we finally found actual laws stating we can do it. R5 Zoning in our area allows for “Agricultural Processing” and distilling sprits counts.
We engaged a TTB Consultant and asked, “How do we solve this issue with the distillery being close to our house?” Our consultant has gotten numerous distilleries permitted by the Feds and suggested the building be 70 feet from the house and have a separate driveway and address. That sounds easy. Spoiler – It was NOT! Our consultant is super conservative and recommends things he is very sure will have a high likelihood of success. So, rather than risk it we decide to explore this direction. An exploration it was.
June 2018 until April of 2019 was spent working on a fruitless effort to solve that problem.
Plan A – Add a driveway through the front.
Yuk, that’s not going to look very good. So, nix that plan.
Plan B – Come in from the back.
There’s a private driveway that runs the length of the back of our yard which comes from a cul-de-sac and all houses have addresses on a different street!
A great solution, right? Separate address available on a completely different street just for the TTB and we use our home driveway for customers, deliveries and pickup and the land does not get all messed up.
So then it was time to talk to George who owns the driveway!
George is totally cool and says “sure, you can use it for that”. Time to talk to the county. They do some research and tell me two rules. Only 2 properties can share a private driveway and an easement will be needed. Oops, satellite images show another neighbor is already using the driveway already without an easement. He would have to stop using his current parking area and would have to be return it to grass.
No way I am going to ask him to do that.
Thinking cap back on. So, what would it take to get around that? No problem says the county, widen the private driveway to make it a road and create a new cul-de-sac at the end with a huge turn around for emergency service vehicles to turn around. Where would all that land come from? From a huge chunk of our back yard and it is going to cost a bunch of money.
Not going to happen.
During this entire time, we are continuing to research buildings, getting quotes. Started working with a marketing company on branding and am making good progress on all other fronts including equipment research and starting to figure out what is going to be required for septic (that is a story all by itself).
In October I settled on the building. A 3,500sqft building with a nice, covered patio for outdoor seating and small events. Started talking with the county needing to setup a pre-application meeting to find out the details.
In November, knowing I would need a separate septic system (seems something magical happens to my excrement between my house and 70 feet away) because what is produced in the new building is considered “commercial waste”. More on that nightmare later. Anyway, I contracted a company that deals with such things, and we ordered a perk test and drilled the holes. You’ll find out later exactly how long that took.
The pre-application meeting..
Mind you, I still have not figured out the access issue yet. We meet with a bevy of county planners (paid my $500 to get the process started) and the fire marshal informs me that we are going to need to bring a brand-new fire hydrant within 50 feet of the building! OMG. That’s going to cost a fortune. Digging up Snohomish Avenue trenching through our whole front yard! This thing is going to cost over 100K! I stood up and said, well, that’s a deal breaker I guess we just can’t do it. Very sad, all this work down the drain. The bureaucracy wins, little guy loses. But then… the fire marshal says, “if you make the building 2,500 sq ft and loose the porch we can get our hoses around the building.” OK. We can do that, smaller can work too. So, we’re back on just need a different building and still need to figure out the access thing out for the Feds. I learned some other interesting things in that meeting. We needed Environmental folks engaged, someone who deals with drainage, the building guy and “transportation”!
Transportation? What’s that about? Seems the county is concerned about how much extra traffic I’m going to create during the week. Fine, we’re only going to be open on weekends. But there is this little requirement that across the front of a commercial space there needs to be a shoulder on the road wide enough for a car. What? Oh, no. Another deal breaker! I am going to have to relocate 3 telephone poles and widen Snohomish Avenue in front of my house? WTH? Well, that’s not happening! Time again to stand up and walk out, deal done, bureaucracy wins, little guy loses☹ Oh, but wait! Mr. Transportation expert informs me that there is a process that I can go through and request an exemption. Turns out, they don’t care about weekends. That’s great. Most of the stuff I need will come on the same trucks I normally get for my house. Raw materials, I pick up while out on other errands so, I just need to document those days out of all the others and submit a request for an exemption and we’re good to go. OK, time to sit back down! Good to go.
Oh but wait… Environmental? How could that be an issue? Well, they need to come for a site visit. The outcome of that was surprising to say the least. Our county environmental person assigned to our project is very nice. Let me be clear before we start. Everyone at the county planning was great and helpful. They did not create these rules or laws. They are simply here to help guide us through and be compliant. It is the political people “WE the People” collectively have selected to represent us who come up with these insane small business killing rules and regulations. Not the county workers! Anyway, she shows up and looks the place over and informs me that what I thought was a “drainage ditch” in our front yard was actually the head waters of “Great Dane Creek”. What? I have a dictionary. A “creek” has water! It’s freaking DRY! It only has water in it when there is a boat load of rain between October and April. The rest of the time it is bone dry. How can this be? A wetland on my property! No way! Oh yes way, no way around it. Can’t fight city hall, well unless you have more money than they do like Walmart or CostCo and you can bury their entire budget in legal crap until they relent and just leave you alone. Sadly, I am not playing in that field. If you are under the impression that you own your own land and therefore you can do with it as you please, think again! You can’t use that land as you see fit, but sure as you can read this, you are going to pay taxes on it as if you could. This is the beginning of another nightmare.
It’s January 2019 and we’re starting to run out of options. Time to throw a hail Mary on this access issue.
Plan C – Add a private driveway from the cul-de-sac right next to my neighbors.
Problem, we do not own about 40 feet of the land between the cul-de-sac to our property line. It is a super long shot but maybe my neighbor to the north would be willing to do a small land swap, I’ll pay to get the property lines redrawn.
Oh no! The property just sold! New owners have only been there a few months. Well, this is going to be an interesting conversation. They seem like nice folks, (and they really are) and considering the circumstances, this is a ridiculous ask, but I must try. It takes weeks to setup a meeting, time is of the essence we discussed, he wants to think about it (that’s not a no!) comes back a few days later and the answer is…. “NO, not comfortable with that”. I could never begrudge them. Are you kidding? This dude they barely met for a few minutes, weeks before shows up and wants to swap patches of land? That sounds squirely as hell. Yes, yes it does😊 I would have thought the exact same thing and said the exact same thing. Well, now we have a serious conundrum. Wheels are in motion bunches of money spent. What are we to do?
The ADI (American Distilling Institute) convention, Denver Colorado. Thinking my only hope is to find someone to talk to from the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau [formerly ATF]). The TTB is the governing agency that grants distilled spirits plant permits. Maybe, if I brought my plans and drawings, I might find someone who could help.
Day One of the convention – mission – Find the TTB table and see if the person would be willing to help. I can’t believe my luck! The person manning the booth is the actual guy who deals with this specific legal stuff and could very well end up being the decision maker when it comes to a distillery at a residence! (There are a handful of such situations in the entire country). He asks me “Do you have any plans or drawings with you?” I said, I’ll be right back”. I speed walked back to my hotel room, gathered up my stuff and beat feet back to his table. We laid everything out on the table and discussed it. He pointed out where I should put signs, fences, gates and where I should put the building, get a separate address for the building and if I did all that he said “we can probably work with that”. Notice no commitment! But sharing the driveway with the home is possible! Wish I knew that a year ago😊
That’s all I needed to hear. We’re back on! Of course it is a total crap shoot! We must build the building before the application to the TTB can even happen. Risky? Sure, but worst-case scenario, we’ll have a building perfect for a brewery or winery and we sell the place if TTB says no.
We’re on! And now the real “fun” begins. Look for more in Part 3.
If you would like to follow our journey as we built our distillery here is our story. Grab a glass your favorite Wohlfert spirit and come join us on the adventure…
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