The Gardiner Planning Board gave final approval Tuesday for a hard cider company to begin producing cider in a South Gardiner warehouse, seven months after the city originally allowed the company to open in a former church.

Since being approved to open a production facility and tasting room at a church building in a residential neighborhood, the result of a lengthy city process to approve the exemption, Lost Orchard Brewing Co. has changed its plan and instead will produce the majority of its hard cider at a warehouse at 650 River Ave., formerly used by Associated Grocers.

The company previously had received approval to use three 1,000-gallon fermentation tanks and one finishing tank to produce up to 50,000 gallons of hard cider a year in the former church, but the company’s founder now expects to produce 150,000 gallons of cider in the first full year of production at the warehouse. The church building, formerly the Gardiner Congregational Church, still will be used as a tasting room and to produce smaller batches of cider.

David Boucher, founder of the company, told the Kennebec Journal last month he hopes to have cans of the hard cider, sold under the label Crabby Apple Cider, on shelves by July 4. If that timeline goes as planned, Boucher also hopes to open the tasting room in the Church Street property that day.

Boucher plans to build the tasting room in the church’s large, pew-filled sanctuary. The bar will be located at the altar, and people will be able to sit in the pews or tables in the back of the room, he said. The company closed on the $100,000 purchase of the church building on April 27.

Deborah Willis, chairwoman of the Planning Board, said locating the bulk of the production in a warehouse instead of the church building will mean a lesser effect on the neighborhood where the church is and more capacity to grow.

“I think it’s great,” Willis said. “I think the production would have fit in the church, but as he’s building this, he’s probably realizing he wants a larger capacity, and he’ll be able to do that.”

Boucher said the expense and logistics of reinforcing the church floors to withstand the tanks’ weight led him to reconsider using the church property as the primary production facility.

Because the former church is in a residential zone, the city had to create a new zoning process that would allow commercial exemptions in the high-density residential zone. City councilors approved the new process last June to allow Lost Orchard Brewing Co. to open in the church. Finding a way to allow for the reuse of older, nonresidential buildings in residential districts was a goal of the city’s new comprehensive plan approved last year, but so far, only Lost Orchard Brewing Co. has used the process.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig

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