AUGUSTA — A proposed distillery where the owner plans to make small batches of bourbon and other spirits on North Belfast Avenue in about a year was approved Tuesday by the Planning Board.

Robert Coates, of Litchfield, won unanimous board approval to build a small distillery and microbrewery in an older commercial building he owns at 3044 North Belfast Ave.

Coates said his initial idea was to produce whiskey and bourbon. Since the traditional method of distilling those spirits takes several years, however, he said he’d probably also make other spirits and brew some beer as well to get some cash flowing.

Coates plans to convert a building now used for storage into a small microdistillery and microbrewery. The building footprint would remain the same, but Coates plans to raise the front part of the roof of the building from 8 to 18 feet high.

The 4,000-square-foot building would be used to manufacture spirits and beer and also potentially sell those products on the retail market.

In response to a question from resident Bob Corey, Coates said when the business is up and running, he could employ up to two workers. Being on a private well limits the volume of alcohol he could produce there, so he doesn’t anticipate having any more employees there than that. He said if the business really took off, he’d move to a facility capable of handling larger volume.

He said it will take eight months to a year to go through the federal licensing process to become a distillery.

Board member Peter Pare asked if that anticipated wait to get a federal license could cause the board’s approval to lapse by the time the business is likely to open.

Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, said while the board does often set a deadline for work to start on an approved project, simply seeking a federal license and going through other steps in the process of opening the business would satisfy the city’s requirements that action be taken on the project within a year.

Coates said he’s never been in this type of business before, and he wanted to put to use his North Belfast Avenue building, which he’s owned for years but hasn’t used much recently.

“In all honesty, I’ve never even dabbled in it,” he said of the liquor-making business.

No one spoke in opposition to the proposal.

“I think this is very exciting. As far as I know, this is the first brewery of this sort in the city of Augusta,” board member A. Delaine Nye said.

Coates said he expects a modest traffic count of vehicles from retail sales, and one to three deliveries a week at the proposed business.

The building, clad in well-worn metal siding, would be upgraded with more modern, commercial metal siding and other renovations, according to Coates. He said the property is bordered on the east by a high ridge, and on the west there is a “substantial wooded buffer that generally screens the properties visually.”

The property has a private well and septic system.

Coates said in his response to an application question asking whether he has the financial resources and technical ability to construct the project in compliance with city ordinances, “We have made a long-term study of this project and the related costs and feel we have the adequate resources present or available to comply with the terms of the ordinances.”

In October, city councilors, at Coates’ request, changed the city’s zoning to add distilleries, breweries and bakeries with less than 5,000 square feet of floor space as allowed uses in some zones in the city, a change which was recommended by the Planning Board.

The city’s land use ordinance, according to City Manager William Bridgeo, didn’t previously include those uses as allowed uses, so technically they weren’t allowed in the city though Augusta has had bakeries in recent years.

The proposed distillery and brewery location at 3044 North Belfast Ave. is within the Rural Village District, where a distillery is a conditional use, meaning board members could approve it if they thought it was compatible with the neighborhood.

Coates said in his application to the city “the neighborhood is a mix of 75 percent commercial and 25 percent residential. The building’s visual presence has not changed much in over 25 years. While there are two residences nearby, the overall image of that immediate area is of a commercial zone.”

Lajoie Brothers construction business is across the street from the 1.2-acre site, which is near, but not on Togus Pond.

Coates said the business won’t have entertainment or other activities at the site.

Coates said city officials were helpful over the last several months as he sought the zoning rule change so he could open the new business.

“I appreciate the fact I happen to have this building in the city of Augusta,” he said. “I don’t feel like anyone feels this is a bad thing to happen in the city.”

At the start of the meeting, the board elected Corey Vose to remain chairman and elected Justin Poirier vice chairman.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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