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Zoning board denies request from Starving Artist Brewing

April 5, 2019

AMBER TWP. — Starving Artist Brewing hit a roadblock in its plans to add an outdoor beer garden and serve pints to customers when the Mason County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted on Wednesday to deny a variance request from the business.

Owner Andy Thomas told the Daily News on Thursday that he is considering appealing the decision, but said the future is uncertain at the moment.

Thomas was seeking to re-zone his 634 S. Stiles Road brewery from a home-based business to a microbrewery, which falls under the recently established classification of agribusiness.

The re-zoning would have allowed Starving Artist Brewing to serve up to 2 pints per person and add an outdoor seating are with picnic tables, as well as parking for up to 25 people.

On March 5, Thomas brought the request to the Mason County Planning Commission. Because Thomas’ Amber Township property did not meet three of the county’s zoning ordinance standards, planning commissioners postponed any decision and referred him to the ZBA, which is the only body that can authorize a landowner to “depart from the literal interpretation” of the ordinance, according to Mason County Building and Zoning Director Brady Selner.

Selner said those standards included a 10-acre minimum for microbreweries; a stipulation that microbrewery owners reserve 2 acres to farm and cultivate ingredients; and a clarification about on-site consumption of alcohol.

Thomas’ property is 5 acres, and the issue that determined the ZBA’s decision was the 10-acre minimum, according to Selner.

“His request was denied … because he needed a minimum parcel size of 10 acres,” Selner said. “They determined that it did not meet that condition.”

Thomas told the Daily News on Thursday that the board also had reservations in general about granting variances for the agribusiness ordinance.

“The board members who wrote the zoning ordinance felt the standards were accurate and too new to issue a variance this early on,” Thomas said.

He added that several neighbors, business owners and members of the public have expressed support for the expansion, and noted that letters were written encouraging the ZBA to grant the variance.

“There were many letters and public comments, all in support,” Thomas said. “None of them were taken into consideration in their discussion.”

Thomas and his wife Michelle posted an update to followers on Facebook on Thursday morning in which they expressed frustration with the ZBA’s decision.

“What we received was unexpected and, at times, slightly offensive … The overall experience through this process has been frustrating at best…

“Misinformation and lack of guidance and, at times, understanding by the zoning director, have also cost our small based business valuable time and a substantial investment. At many times, it was obvious that due diligence is the sole responsibility of the applicant, and not the role of the staff and/or board members.”

Thomas also suggested that the standards were “vague” and “open to interpretation.”

“Much of the conversation was limited, and, at moments, unnecessarily condemning. Particularly that of discussing what size and quantities a brewery should be able to serve. This is not a decision that the ZBA has the authority to make,” they stated. “Unfortunately, we feel that this heavily influenced one or more board members with their decisions on our proposed variances…

“We are not questioning the authority of our local government and officials or zoning and its purpose. The question we have is how this authority can permit a business to establish and operate, and after substantial investment, single-handedly decide its fate.”

Selner said Thomas has two options he could pursue in the wake of Wednesday’s decision.

“Every landowner has an opportunity to appeal a ZBA decision to the Circuit Court or pursue an amendment to the zoning ordinance,” Selner said.

Zoning amendment applications are submitted to the planning commission, which then sends them to the County Board of Commissioners with a recommendation, according to Selner.

“The county board has the final say,” Selner said.

Thomas stated in his Facebook post that he is unsure about his plans for the future, but told the Daily News that he is open to pursuing any option that will help him get his plans off the ground.

“At this point, we are entertaining any and all options, including the appeal process,” Thomas said.

Starving Artist’s home-based business permit is still in effect, and it is still able to serve samples of its craft beers.

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