County zoning board of appeals denies brewery’s variance request.

April 3, 2019


County zoning board of appeals denies brewery’s variance request.


By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

SCOTTVILLE — The Mason County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) turned down a zoning variance request by Starving Artist Brewing Company of Amber Township today. Owners Andrew and Michelle Thomas had requested that their home-based business, located at 634 S. Stiles Rd. — which was granted by the county’s zoning ordinance — be allowed to be rezoned as a microbrewery agribusiness. The Thomases want to build a tasting room that that would serve up to 2 pints of craft beer to patrons; they have also requested parking for 25 people. The existing brewery operates out of a renovated barn adjacent to the Thomas’s home. 

Amber Township currently uses county zoning which requires agribusinesses to operate on 10 acre parcels (section 17.03). The Thomases own five acres. In early March, the Thomases presented their case to the county planning commission, which denied the request citing that it was limited to the ordinance as written. However, Andrew Thomas said he was encouraged by planning commissioners to go to the ZBA.

“We were told that this was mostly a formality and that there really shouldn’t be any issues,” Thomas said. He added that some Amber Township board members attended the planning commission meeting and offered their support on behalf of the township.

During its regular meeting today, April 3, the five member ZBA unanimously turned down the variance request.

“Their logic was that we didn’t have a 10 acre parcel, so they couldn’t approve the variance request,” Thomas said. “I was under the impression that was why a property owner seeks a variance.”

Thomas said that one of the ZBA members, Lois Krepps, questioned whether 2 pints of craft beer was excessive, an action that Thomas said seemed inappropriate for a committee member to consider.

“One of the board members even told Krepps that the board was informed by its attorney that its members could not consider consumption because that is regulated by state law,” Thomas said.

The Thomases’ land is zoned agricultural and is surrounded by active farms.

“I have been in business in this county for 14 years and we have been advocates of promoting Mason County’s economic progressiveness,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately tonight I am really re-thinking if I want to continue to grow my business here, or at least in a township regulated by the county. We were willing to agree to conditions but there were never any conditions talked about. It was flat out ‘no’. I tried to discuss the option of leasing acreage from our neighbor, but we were told ‘no’. It’s very frustrating and this zoning ordinance is certainly not friendly towards business.”

Thomas said he is considering other options to fight the denial. He said he may consider approaching the Amber Township board of trustees and asking it to consider breaking away from the county’s zoning ordinance. Currently, the cities of Ludington and Scottville, and the townships of Pere Marquette, Hamlin, and Grant, have their own zoning ordinances, not governed by the county.

“This process has already cost us over $1,000,” he said. “This is just something I am not going to accept and I plan on looking at all options.”

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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