GARDINER — A hard cider brewery proposed for a former church in a residential district is still at least two weeks away from potentially being approved by the city.

The Gardiner City Council approved the proposal for a final reading after holding a public hearing at its last meeting on Aug. 6, but the city attorney recommended additional public notices about the potential zoning changes. The owner of the hard cider company also submitted additional information about his plan eventually to double the capacity at the building and to operate a tasting room on evenings or weekends for a limited number of special occasions.

The council will discuss the proposal at its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. Councilors also are scheduled to approve appointing a new fire chief and approve the comprehensive plan sanctioned by the Planning Board and the Ordinance Review Committee in May.

The council will review the changes to the hard cider proposal Wednesday and could hold the final public hearing and vote at its Sept. 10 meeting, according to Nate Rudy, director of economic and community development for the city.

The hard cider company, Lost Orchard Brewing Co., has been looking to open in the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street for months, but the city first had to pass a new zoning ordinance in June to allow for the reuse of some older buildings whose original uses are no longer possible or suitable.

The start-up hard cider maker 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 probably wouldn’t happen without the city easing zoning restrictions.

Last month, the Planning Board tentatively approved the hard cider proposal, but it’s up to the council to decide whether the business should be allowed.

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.

The company’s founder, David Boucher, of New Harbor, said he plans to start with three 1,000-gallon fermenting tanks and could add three more within two years, doubling capacity from 50,000 gallons to 100,000 gallons. After that, the company would expand by shifting the majority of the hard cider making to a warehouse building elsewhere in the city, Boucher said. The company plans to use freshly pressed cider from the Maine Apple Co. in Monmouth and to bottle and package the hard cider on the site.

Boucher also hopes to open a tasting room in the former church’s sanctuary by Memorial Day of next year.

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

Also at the meeting, councilors will consider whether to appoint Al Nelson, a former battalion chief for the Augusta Fire Department, as the city’s new fire chief. The position has been filled on an interim basis by another former Augusta battalion chief, Dan Guimond, since the end of March.

Councilors are also scheduled to:

• hold a public hearing and consider approving the proposed comprehensive plan;

• consider approving painting bicycle lanes in the downtown and on Maine Avenue between the Kennebec River Rail Trail and the downtown;

• and hold public hearings and consider approving special event permits for a fall festival and the fifth annual Barks in the Park at the city’s Waterfront Park.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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