County planning commission grants Starving Artist Brewing’s tasting room request.

May 7, 2019
Andy Thomas, right, addresses the Planning Commission

County planning commission grants Starving Artist Brewing’s tasting room request. 


By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

PERE MARQUETTE TOWNSHIP — An Amber Township brewery will be able to proceed with its plans to build a tasting room after the Mason County Planning Commission waived the minimum acre stipulation Tuesday night at the Mason County Airport complex. Andy Thomas, owner of Starving Artist Brewing Company, 634 S. Stiles Road, had requested his home-based business be allowed to be rezoned as a microbrewery agribusiness. The planning commission’s decision came down to state law trumping local law. 

When Andy and his wife, Michelle, opened their business in 2015, they had requested a special use permit to allow their brewery to be a home-based business. At that time, the county’s zoning ordinance did not have a stipulation about microbreweries. Since that time, the zoning ordinance was amended to include microbreweries under the agribusiness category. However, Thomas’ original request was for production only. Amber Township does not have its own zoning ordinance.

When Thomas decided to expand his business to include a tasting room, he approached the county’s zoning director, Brady Selner . It was agreed that he was changing the terms of the original special land use and then applied to be a microbrewery. However, one of the restrictions he did not meet was the 10 acre minimum requirement. Thomas only has five acres and there is no land adjacent to his land for sale. His land is zoned agriculture, however.

The zoning ordinance also states that an agribusiness must include an active farm operation with a minimum of two acres and that portions must be tasting room portions and that the tasting room cannot operate as a bar. 

When Thomas originally appeared in front of the planning commission in March, he was referred to the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals. That board unanimously denied his request in early April. In response, Thomas decided to start farming. He said he is going to plant hop on his property and he will also be harvesting the maple trees for maple syrup. 

Selner told the planning commission that some new information had come forward since the process began. It was discovered that when Thomas renewed his Liquor Control Commission license on Dec. 19, 2018, he also checked the “tasting room” segment of the license, meaning the state had already granted him permission to have a tasting room with no restrictions on acreage — because state law trumps local law. Since that time, the state has allowed local governments to place restrictions, but Thomas is grandfathered.

The Planning Commission had sought the advice of an attorney who specializes in zoning laws, who in turn gave the advice that it follow the state law. The attorney also recommended that the Planning Commission not restrict portion sizes either, since that is regulated by the LCC. 

Some of the commissioners expressed their concerns that the topic should still be brought back to the ZBA to allow it to grant the variance, since the Planning Commission is typically not in the practice to grant such requests. However, by 5-2 vote, the commission voted against that motion and then by a 5-2 vote approved a motion to exempt the 10 acre minimum. 

The Planning Commission is referring the matter back to its attorney and requesting a formal resolution be drafted. 

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