GARDINER — The hard cider brewery hoping to open in a former church in a residential neihborhood is one step closer to being approved by the city.

The Planning Board approved the plan Monday night, sending the proposal to City Council to review at its Aug. 6 meeting and to decide whether the hard cidery start-up would benefit the city while preserving the character of the neighborhood.

The proposal from Lost Orchard Brewing Co. is the first to use a new zoning rule allowing the city to approve some commercial uses in older, nonresidential buildings in the high-density residential district.

David Boucher, one of the founders of the company, said after Monday’s meeting that the process has been tedious at times, but he’s happy with the progress so far.

“I feel that people are excited to see this happen,” he said.

Boucher and his fiancée, Kristina Nugent, both of New Harbor, have been looking to open in the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street for more than half a year, but the zoning rules don’t allow the business in the residential district. Councilors passed the new policy in June to find a way to allow for the creative reuse of buildings that are no longer economically viable for their prior uses or physically suitable for the uses allowed in their zoning district.

The yellow church building, which was built in 1843, has been unused since the church announced in 2009 it would be closing its doors and selling the building. The founders of the company signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the property from the church for $100,000 if the city approves their plan. Part of the reason for choosing the church is because Boucher wants to restore it as a historical rehabilitation project, he said.

The Planning Board, after requesting additional details of the plan at its July 15 meeting, tentatively approved the proposal Monday night, saying it met the technical requirements of an adaptive reuse overlay district. It’s up to the councilors to decide whether to ultimately approve it. Council will be holding a public hearing at its Aug. 6 review of the plan.

In order to approve the new use, councilors must find that it is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, is compatible with existing and permitted uses in the neighborhood, balances the benefits and the new investment while protecting the character of the neighborhood, is in the public interest, and will benefit the city in a way that wouldn’t happen if it was developed under the current residential zoning restrictions.

A couple of neighbors have expressed concerns about the plans, but most of those concerns have been eased during the process.

However, one nearby resident told the board at its meeting two weeks ago that allowing the hard cider brewery to open would be a travesty. Nate Mitchell, 84, who lives on the other side of Church Street from the location, said opening the hard cidery there would disrupt the tranquility of the neighborhood.

“It would no longer be a residential neighborhood with a brewery right in the middle of it. It doesn’t fit. Period,” Mitchell said in a phone interview following that meeting.

Boucher has said the business won’t disrupt the neighborhood. The increased traffic to the business would be less than what the building saw as an active church, he said. The company won’t be pressing any apples on site because Maine Apple Company in Monmouth will provide the cider, Boucher said.

The company plans to operate Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Boucher hopes to open up a tasting room in the church’s sanctuary by next May for people to drink samples of cider and to purchase bottles and growlers of it. They plan to locate the three 1,000-gallon brewing tanks in a room in the back of the church.

If all goes as planned, Boucher said he hopes to have the first batch of cider ready in time for apple season this fall. The company will distribute to stores across the state once it begins producing cider, he said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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