By Ezra Black
Free Press Staff
With the business community voicing its support, council is taking steps to rezone the Fernie Legion for the construction of the community’s first craft distillery.
On Jan. 9, councillors approved the rezoning of the Fernie Legion for the operation of a craft distillery by Jill Rutherford and her husband Andrew Hayden, owners of Fernie Distillers Inc.
Bylaw No. 2303, cited as Zoning Bylaw No. 1750, Amendment Bylaw No. 184, 2016, passed third reading and was referred to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for approval after a public hearing.
Rutherford and Hayden plan to lease or purchase the Fernie Legion’s hall to house the distillery. The lounge section of the Legion would be kept as is. Their operation could include a tasting room, lounge and patio. Fernie Distillers could begin production in July 2017.
“We’re really excited to provide a different service to Fernie,” said Rutherford. “We’re excited to be a part of the community.”
Jennifer Cronin, president of the Fernie Legion, said she was very excited at the prospect of this potential partnership.
“We may not have been [excited] if it hadn’t been [Rutherford] and [Hayden] doing this,” she said. “But because of the way they buy into the Legion, their allegiance to the Legion and the due diligence they’ve done to put forth this proposal, we’re very supportive of them.”
As of Jan. 5, the city has received a number of comments relating to the distillery.
An email from Infinitea T-Bar and Boutique, which is an adjacent business, informed the city that they have “no problem” with the rezoning regarding the proposed distillery.
A letter from Michael Delich of Fernie Vacation Properties supported the Legion distillery.
“We have personally visited the Okanagan Spirits distillery on Bernard Avenue in Kelowna and saw how the business added economic vitality and experience for residents and visitors to Kelowna’s downtown,” stated Delich in his letter. “There are no negative aspects or impact to other nearby businesses.”
Local resident Sandra Barrett expressed concerns with the proposal, reasoning that downtown was not the proper place to locate a distillery because it is an “industrial process.”
“I have no objections to new businesses coming to Fernie,” said Barrett. “But I do have some concerns I was hoping you could address.”
Barrett wondered whether there could be a risk of explosion, mould, water pollution, noise or smell.
Bruce Lennox, director of planning, said the distillery’s limited production area makes it appropriate for a downtown location.
The zoning bylaw limits the distillery’s production area to a maximum of 140 square metres, which limits the amount of flammable substances that can be produced, he said.
“It’s going to be a smaller type of distillery,” said Lennox. “These type of distilleries are being developed throughout the province. They’re almost all downtown.”
Nevertheless, Lennox said the city has sought council from Interior Health, which “didn’t have any concerns from a health perspective,” he said.
In addition, the city has a report from an expert in fire code that determined a distillery could be built in the Legion. However, a second report would be done during the building code review process, said Lennox.
“Ventilation is a key factor that has to be looked at,” he said.” [But] the report is quite detailed and it addressed our concerns. We believe that it can be undertaken at the site. We’re comfortable [and] we feel that it’s a suitable location for this particular use.”
Lennox said there would be a period during the fermentation process where the distillery would produce a “yeasty smell,” but that it would resemble that of a bakery. He said the odour is not strong and would not be noticed outside the building.
Fernie Fire Chief Ted Ruiter said the downtown distillery would be a good fit for the area.
“This was a learning process for a lot of us here because it’s new to the city,” he said. “We did our research and we are quite happy with these people as long as they follow the codes.”