The Gardiner City Council at its meeting Wednesday night approved a proposal to open a hard cider company in a former church, but the Planning Board still has to wait at least 30 days to issue the final approval.

The proposal from Lost Orchard Brewing Co. is the first to use a new zoning policy passed in June to encourage the reuse of older, nonresidential buildings in residential neighborhoods. The Planning Board already approved the plan in July, but the city attorney has advised that the board needs to approve the plan again now that council has made the zoning change for the business, said City Manager Scott Morelli. The board will meet to review the plan in October after waiting 30 days for the change to go into effect, he said.

Morelli said he anticipates the board will approve the proposal again.

The process has been longer than expected for the applicant, David Boucher, of New Harbor, who previously anticipated having hard cider ready by the start of fall.

“The way I’m looking now, I’ll be lucky to have something on shelves by Thanksgiving,” Boucher said Thursday.

He said the delay isn’t ideal, but it will give him some more time to wrap up smaller tasks at the church building, which the company will purchase once the city approves the plan. Bottles of the cider will be in stores before the end of the year, he said.

“Granted, it does hurt a little bit from a company standpoint, but I still have my eyes on the endgame and what it will do for the company and the community,” Boucher said.

Morelli said the city will be looking at changing the process in the future so it isn’t as burdensome for the applicant. Even though it took several months, Morelli said it still moved fairly quickly considering the city had to change its zoning laws before the process could even begin.

“We just need to fine tune the process,” he said.

The startup company had been eying the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street since at least the start of the year, but the city’s zoning rules don’t allow most businesses to open in the high-density residential zone.

Using the new zoning policy, the council approved easing the zoning restrictions at the former church, allowing the specific use outlined in the plan.

The company plans to use three 1,000-gallon fermenting tanks to produce up to 50,000 gallons of hard cider a year. If the company wants to grow, it could go through the process again to add up to three more fermenting tanks. Boucher previously said that the company would eventually shift the majority of the operation to a warehouse building elsewhere in the city if it expanded beyond the six fermentation tanks.

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. It also plans to open a tasting room in the former church sanctuary next year. As part of the project, the company is looking to restore the former church building, which was built in 1843 and last occupied in 2009.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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