Shoreham OKs WhistlePig distillery, appeal looms

MIDDLEBURY — The Shoreham Zoning Board of Adjustment has given its approval to WhistlePig’s proposal to establish a whiskey distillery at its property off Quiet Valley Road.
But WhistlePig founder and owner Raj Bhatka cannot take that zoning board approval to the bank — at least not yet. George Gross and Barbara Wilson, owners of the nearby Solar Haven Farm LLC, have already served notice they will appeal the zoning board’s decision to the Vermont Environmental Court.
Gross and Wilson are also among the interested parties in a separate Act 250 review of the proposed WhistlePig distillery, which would involve conversion of an existing, on-site dairy barn and construction of a 50-foot-by-90-foot storage barn. Gross, Wilson and some other neighbors have voiced concerns about potential traffic, noise and a mysterious black mold they fear the whiskey-making operation could bring to the neighborhood. The Act 250 review of the WhistlePig application — which is fueling a new statewide debate over what can legitimately be deemed an agricultural enterprise and therefore entitled to farm-related permitting exemptions — will take center stage in Shoreham’s firehouse this Friday, March 22, at 9 a.m.
In the meantime, Bhatka can take some solace that his distillery plan has drawn support from the town zoning board. In its decision, dated March 1, the board determined that:
•  “The current use of receiving, storing, blending, repackaging and wholesaling falls under conditional use in the Low Density Residential (LDR) district under enclosed manufacturing, warehousing and wholesale.”
•  “The distilling operation falls under enclosed manufacturing as a conditional use in the district.”
•  The production facility could operate six days per week up to 12 hours a day, with office operations authorized for seven days a week.
•  “The operation will not affect the capacity of community facilities” and that “the operation will not negatively affect the character of the neighborhood.”
Bhatka had hoped this year to begin harvesting rye grown on his 500-acre farm, then distill it, the product of which he would store in oak barrels to age for up to 10 years to mature into high-end whiskey. WhistlePig is currently sourcing whiskey from Canada and bottling it in Shoreham.
“We’re very happy to be working with the town and state to ensure that we’re in full compliance with all laws,” Bhatka said in reaction to the zoning board approval. “I’m glad we received our permit from the town, and I expect we’ll be getting our state permits soon. Unfortunately, we have a neighbor who will appeal everything, no matter what.”
Wilson and Gross, whose Solar Haven Farm produces organic berries and tree fruit, provided the Addison Independent with a statement regarding their opposition to the zoning board decision.
“Looking at the Shoreham Zoning Board of Adjustment’s decision, they approved the WhistlePig LLC distillery for a conditional use permit in Shoreham’s Low Density Residential (LDR-2) zoning district,” Wilson and Gross said in a joint statement. “In issuing their approval, they choose to overlook the provisions of the Shoreham Zoning Bylaws that prohibit light industry and agricultural processing in the LDR-2 district. Consequently, we will be appealing their decision. These uses are permitted in Shoreham’s Village Commercial district located along the Route 22A corridor. Relocating the WhistlePig distillery to this district has numerous benefits. The Village Commercial district provides ready access to public water supply, public waste water treatment services, improved rapid fire safety access, safe access for 18-wheeler trucks, and the economic benefit of retail sales to tourist traffic.”
District 9 Environmental Commission Coordinator Geoff Green said the March 22 Act 250 hearing will allow the interested parties and their attorneys an opportunity to question witnesses in the case based on pre-filed testimony that has already been filed in the matter. The subject of black mold is likely to be a focal point of the hearing. Opponents of the plan contend the proposed distillery’s fermentation and whiskey aging process would produce ethanol emissions. Those  emissions, opponents allege, could trigger the formation of Baudoinia compniacensis black mold — also known as “whiskey fungus” — on structures in the vicinity of the whiskey aging warehouse.
“WhistlePig is proposing to build an industrial facility that by any measure will have many negative environmental impacts on its surrounding neighborhood and farms,” Gross and Wilson said in their statement. “Our research indicates for every gallon of new whiskey produced, they will also generate 26 gallons of heavily polluted and acidic waste water. In our Act 250 filings, we have also documented with scientific evidence how the long-term whiskey aging storage of over 100,000 barrels of whiskey will cause whiskey mold colonization on the properties and agricultural crops adjacent to the WhistlePig site.”
Bhatka said he and his lawyers dispute those allegations and will provide testimony that the distillery will not produce enough product to trigger black mold concerns.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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