The backers of a controversial distillery project in Bourbon County say they are pulling out less than a month after revealing they were considering the Stoner Creek Golf Course in Paris as a possible site for the distillery.
Tony Mills, a spokesman for an investor group behind the Jacob Spears Distillery, said in a written statement Tuesday the “project will no longer be pursued in Bourbon County.”
In the statement, Mills said a lawsuit filed by neighbors of the Stoner Creek Golf Course over a controversial zone change to the property was the reason why the golf course is no longer being considered for the distillery.
“While the investor group was excited to bring the proposed project to Bourbon County and to honor and reclaim the county’s bourbon heritage, the above-mentioned proposed property is no longer viable due to the current situation,” the statement said.
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Mills and the unknown investors in the distillery were announced in late October after months of questions from Paris residents about why the city had an option to purchase the property and why it had pushed a zone change for it.
Mills said during an Oct. 23 Paris City Commission meeting that the golf course was one of several sites being considered for the distillery project, which could include a 8,500 square-foot distillery, a restaurant, visitors’ center, meeting and event space, and a 5,000-square-foot agricultural museum that focused on the history of bourbon.
“I want to be very clear: None of this happens without the consideration of incentives from the state of Kentucky,” Mills said in October. “That has not been determined yet or even applied for.”
Members of the Wyndamere neighborhood filed a lawsuit in Bourbon Circuit Court in early October alleging the city of Paris improperly approved a zone change for the golf course. At the time the August zone change was approved, city officials had refused to disclose any specific project that necessitated the change.
The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn a vote by the Paris City Commission on Aug. 30 to approve the zone change for the 48-acre golf course from conservation to light industrial. A hearing in the lawsuit has been set for Feb. 5.
The city commission’s vote overturned an Aug. 16 decision by the Paris-Bourbon Joint Planning Commission to deny the city of Paris’ request to rezone the property.
Mills did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
Paris City Manager Daron Jordan said Mills, who has acted as a spokesman for the investment group, has told the city the investment group will not move forward with the project in Bourbon County.
“The city has asked for more information,” Jordan said.
A lawyer for the neighborhood blasted Mills for saying the lawsuit was the reason why the distillery won’t be built in Bourbon County.
“I find it odd that Mr. Mills would blame the folks I represent when all they did was challenge the secret zone change initiated and decided by the elected city officials of Paris,” said Bruce Simpson, a lawyer for Wyndamere.
Jordan said the city did nothing wrong. Cities and counties buy properties for economic development and industrial parks all the time and use non-disclosure agreements to protect companies that are looking for land, he said. There was nothing untoward about the non-diclosure agreement, he said.
There was nothing wrong with the way the city approved the zone change, he said.
“The governing body has the final determination on a zone change,” Jordan said. “The city operated within the law and exceeded with what was required from a zone change. It was not any different than any other zone change that has gone through.”
In late October, the city purchased the property for $650,000 from Bud Wells Jr., of Stoner Creek Partners LLC, according to documents from the city. The city also signed an agreement that said Stoner Creek Partners could buy the golf course back for the same price plus $10,000 to cover legal fees if the city can’t find another buyer by Jan. 31, according to the lease and re-sale agreement.
Simpson said neighbors are puzzled why the city only gave itself three months to try to sell the property before it was sold back to Wells.
“At the end of the day, the former owner of Stoner Creek Country Club gets his property back less $10,000 but with a zone change designation that makes his property significantly more valuable than it was when it was zoned conservation district,” Simpson said.
Jordan, though, noted that the zone change is being challenged in court and has not been finalized.
He said the city wanted a buy-back clause in its agreement with Stoner Creek Partners LLC in case they could not get a buyer for the property. They originally wanted 24 months to sell the property but Stoner Creek Partners only agreed to three months, Jordan said.
Prior to the Nov. 6 general election, Mills paid for an advertisement in The Bourbon Citizen, the local newspaper, that touted the achievements of the current city mayor and commissioners who had voted to approve the zone change, according to reprints of the advertisement.
Paris Mayor Mike Thornton and two of four current city commissioners were defeated in November.