City looks to court downtown distilleries

City looks to court downtown distilleries

WOONSOCKET – The City Council is considering an amendment that would make it easier for distilleries to set up in the city’s urban areas.

The proposed amendment, heard by the council this past Monday, April 5, would allow distilleries and micro-distilleries to operate in the same zoning areas as breweries, wineries and micro-breweries. The measure defines a micro-distillery as “a building or establishment that is a small, often boutique-style distillery established to produce beverage-grade spirit alcohol in relatively small quantities.”

Downtown Woonsocket Collaborative Executive Director Garrett Mancieri, who worked with City Councilor David Soucy to draft the legislation, said the idea was to set up zoning parameters to make it easier for distilleries to come into the city.

“They’ve been popular throughout the country and especially here in Rhode Island, there’s already a couple examples,” he said.

Craft-style distilleries that have opened in the state include White Dog Distilling and Rhode Island Spirits, both of which operate out of former mill spaces in Pawtucket.

Mancieri said he believes a distillery business would be perfect for the city’s downtown historic buildings.

Because distilleries are not currently defined in the city’s zoning code, he explained, a potential business owner would have to go through the lengthy process of applying for a variance as a use not mentioned under the current zoning code.

“It’s a kind of difficult standard to prove. We have to prove that a building is not usable in its current condition,” he said.

If approved, potential distilleries would still be subject to a state licensing process that limits the amount that can be sold on the property.

Though councilors took no vote on the measure on Monday, its co-sponsorship indicates early support. In addition to Soucy, Council President Daniel Gendron and Councilors John Ward and James Cournoyer are listed as co-sponsors on the proposed zoning change.

The proposed change will now go for a review by the Planning Board and a public hearing.