Meetings next week on Big Woods’ expansion to Firecracker Hill

big woods spirit

The expansion of Big Woods Brewing Co. and Hard Truth Distilling Co. into Firecracker Hill is not a done deal yet.

The plan to annex 90 of the more than 300 acres of woods next door to the Brown County Fairgrounds into the corporate limits of Nashville received mixed feedback from members of the Nashville Town Council and public Thursday night.

The owners of both companies, Jeff McCabe, Ed Ryan and Tim O’Bryan, announced plans in December to buy the land from a group based in Franklin and build a distillery and packaging and storage facility on the two parcels.

The current owners of the property had petitioned the town to annex the land. Ryan said Big Woods’ owners need town water and sewer to build, and town council President “Buzz” King said the town didn’t want to provide those services without the owners paying town taxes. The owners will still pay taxes to the county as well.

The land will also need to be rezoned to allow those types of businesses to be built on them, and the land sale is contingent on rezoning being approved, Ryan said.

The owners have set a public meeting for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23 upstairs at Big Woods Village, at Van Buren Street and Molly’s Lane, to explain the Firecracker Hill project and answer questions.

The Brown County Area Plan Commission is to hear the zoning request at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24 at the County Office Building. The group can make a positive, negative or no recommendation to the Brown County Commissioners, which is the body that will make the actual zoning decision while the land is within county boundaries but not town boundaries.

Annexation into town is a separate matter from rezoning. The public hearing Jan. 19 was a preliminary step to adding those 90 acres into town.

At that hearing, Ryan said the use of the property for a distillery has not been finalized yet; he said it might instead house the company’s brewing operations, which are now done at the former bowling alley and Orchard Hill Inn on State Road 135 North and in Martinsville.

In a follow-up conversation Jan. 20, McCabe said the owners are trying to gauge what customers would want to see most in terms of placement of the brewery and distillery. In addition to the 135 North property and a brewing facility in Martinsville, the owners of Big Woods also own two restaurants, a liquor tasting room and bar in downtown Nashville, all in the same area known as Big Woods Village.

Before the council could vote on annexation, the town also is required to conduct a fiscal impact study, said Town Attorney James T. Roberts. The town is considering hiring accounting firm Umbaugh to do that; Roberts said the results of that study would be made public.

The four people who spoke against the annexation at the Jan. 19 public hearing brought up concerns about not just annexation, but the project in general — about that much acreage being zoned for general business, uncertainty about what was going to go on the land and where, worry about an increase in crime due to increased alcohol consumption, and worry about the reputation of Nashville becoming more associated with alcohol than with art.

In regards to comments about crime, Ryan said Big Woods caters to “high-end people. We don’t want riffraff at our places. It’s not inexpensive to enjoy the service we try to provide, and that’s what’s going to happen at our new investment.”

He said plans for the site were still being tweaked, but that the owners plan to build on less than 5 percent of the property. “We don’t want to muck it up with other things,” he said.

Ryan said they need more land than they plan to build on to be zoned general business because he doesn’t know what kind of problems they might run into with placing buildings on the hilly, wooded land.

Town council member David Rudd voted against the town going ahead with the fiscal study, which it would need in order to annex the land. With two council members, Alisha Gredy and Arthur Omberg, absent, the study needed all three “yes” votes from the members who were there for it to pass.

King said they would try again when the full council was present.

Rudd said his problem was with zoning that much land for general business — even though this vote was about a step toward annexation, not about zoning yet. “I think we need to know where this is going,” he said.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.