GARDINER — Councilors voted at their meeting Wednesday night to move a proposal to open a hard cider brewery in a former church to a second public hearing later this month, but they didn’t signal whether they support allowing the business to open in the residential district.

The Planning Board tentatively approved the proposal last week, but it’s up to councilors to decide whether the business will be appropriate for the neighborhood. The hard cider start-up company is looking to open in the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street.

The second public hearing is scheduled for the council’s next meeting, on Aug. 27.

This is the first applicant to use a new zoning policy that allows the city to approve some commercial uses in older, nonresidential buildings in the high-density residential zone. The purpose is to encourage development in large buildings, such as former churches or institutional buildings, that likely wouldn’t happen without the city easing zoning restrictions.

The founder of Lost Orchard Brewing Co., David Boucher, of New Harbor, said the brewery will operate during normal business hours and will not harm the neighborhood.

The company plans to ferment the cider from a company in Monmouth in three 1,000-gallon tanks in the parish hall in the back of the building. It’s also hoping to open a tasting room in the former sanctuary by Memorial Day of next year.

Boucher said 150 accounts have given the company oral agreement to sell the cider. The company plans to sell both bottles and kegs of cider. Once the tasting room is open, the company also would sell growler fills and bottles of cider on site.

One Church Street neighbor, Nate Mitchell, who spoke against the proposal in a previous Planning Board meeting, told councilors he thinks allowing the hard cider brewery in the church would hurt the neighborhood’s tranquility.

“I see no way possible you could have a brewery in that closely confined area, sandwiched between homes there, (and) not have some disruption in the neighborhood,” he said.

Around ten residents spoke at the public hearing, and only two, besides Mitchell, said they were against the plan.

The objections to the proposal mainly regarded the nature of the hard cider business and whether the light manufacturing should be allowed in a residential district. One woman told councilors she didn’t want another business in the city distributing alcohol.

Clare Marron, owner of the downtown artisan store Monkitree and a downtown resident who spoke in favor of the proposal, said she’s glad Boucher is committed to both the city and the historical building.

“I look forward to having it in my community and the people it will attract to town and my business,” Marron said.

Councilors passed the new zoning policy in June to allow for the creative reuse of buildings that are no longer economically viable or physically suitable for uses allowed in the districts in which they’re located.

The former church building, which was built in 1843, has been unused since the church closed in 2009.

Councilors also approved a special event permit for BikeMaine, the second annual bicycle ride by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. Bicyclists will travel 350 miles from Sept. 6 to 13, with stops in Gardiner and Winthrop. Participants are scheduled to stay overnight Sept. 9 in Gardiner’s Waterfront Park.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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