A distiller’s proposal to build 12 bourbon warehouses near Midway was forwarded Wednesday to the Woodford County Board of Adjustment, but not before some members of the Agricultural Advisory Review Committee questioned whether the warehouses are an agricultural enterprise.
Ag committee member Lindy Huber questioned “whether or not bourbon is truly an agricultural product, and therefore why this is coming before our committee.”
Fellow member John Wilhoit agreed: “It does seem kind of a stretch to call the making of bourbon an agricultural enterprise.”
At issue was Brown-Forman Corp.’s proposal to build a dozen new Woodford Reserve warehouses over 12 years north of Interstate 64 near Midway. Two warehouses would be built every two years on land zoned for agricultural use, said Steve Ruschell, a Lexington attorney representing Woodford Reserve.
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The committee reviews applications and makes recommendations on agricultural enterprises, including agri-tourism, to the Board of Adjustment.
Huber said she was concerned that recommending approval of the warehouses would set a precedent.
“To me, food and fiber is what agriculture is, and bourbon does not fit into that category,” Huber said. “It’s consumed.”
“You say ‘food and fiber.’ Then where do you fit in tobacco?” asked committee member Skip Phillips. “For me, it would be different if it was a processing facility where you had the noise, the traffic that would come along with a processing of any type. … I guess I look at bourbon and burley tobacco as agricultural products.”
Woodford County farmer Hampton “Hoppy” Henton said he sells 12,000 to 15,000 bushels of corn a year to Woodford Reserve. The distillery near Versailles also buys corn from a Shelby County farmer.
Ruschell said the distillery is producing “a product with a worldwide impact. We’d like to continue and increase that. The request today is to assist us in the 12-year plan.”
The alternative is “we might have to go to a different county, a different location,” Ruschell said. “But we want to be here. We believe, with all due respect, that this is an agricultural pursuit.”
At maximum capacity, 900,000 barrels would be stored at the site near Midway, Ruschell said. The bourbon would age there for seven to 10 years.
The warehouses come under the definition of an “agricultural plant” in Woodford County’s zoning ordinance, said Pattie Wilson, director of the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission.
That ordinance defines an agricultural plant as “a facility where the value-added processing of agricultural and/or other natural resources occurs.”
Wilson said the ag committee might want to have a work session and consider recommending a revision of that definition to the planning commission.
Wilhoit said he’s concerned about “taking 115 acres of prime agricultural land out of agriculture production” for warehouses.
“I’m struggling with the idea of doing this kind of conditional-use permitting for such a large space as opposed to something in an industrial park with a much smaller footprint,” Wilhoit said.
The committee voted 3-1 to recommend the proposal to the Board of Adjustment, which will discuss a conditional-use permit in May. Wilhoit voted no, and Huber, Phillips and Lori Garkovich voted yes.
The ag committee also recommended conditions for the development. Those conditions included, among other things, “no visitors” language on signs, limiting truck traffic to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week, limiting construction traffic to 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and building on-site containment to prevent spills into South Elkhorn Creek.
Brown-Forman also has asked Woodford Fiscal Court to issue $120 million in industrial revenue bonds to help finance the warehouse project. The bonds wouldn’t add to the county’s debt capacity. Fiscal court discussed the matter Tuesday night but won’t take a vote until its April 26 meeting, Judge-Executive John Coyle said.