Big Woods’ rezoning request to be heard Tuesday night

big woods map

A request by the owners of Big Woods restaurants, Quaff ON! Brewing Co. and Hard Truth spirits to rezone 90 acres of woods next to the Brown County fairgrounds goes before the Brown County Area Plan Commission tonight.

The companies need more space to meet demand for their beer and liquor products and export them even further outside Brown County, co-owner Jeff McCabe said. Brown County is where they want to do that expansion, where the companies began.

But they need to have that land rezoned for business use to keep their plans alive.

That’s the request the Brown County Area Plan Commission will hear at 6 tonight at the County Office Building.

The seven-member plan commission, which oversees land use in Brown County and Nashville, will make a positive, negative or no recommendation to the Brown County Commissioners, who can then vote to go with that recommendation or against it.

The current owners of the land have petitioned the town of Nashville to be annexed into town. But until the town takes the steps to annex, the town council will not have the final say on zoning, said Chris Ritzmann, planning director, today. This is contrary to the approval process that town council members mentioned in last week’s town council meeting; the order in which things are being done is a little different than what the parties expected, Ritzmann said.

About 25 people attended a meeting Monday night in Big Woods Village downtown led by company owners Jeff McCabe, Ed Ryan and Tim O’Bryan to discuss the project.

The plans have deviated a little from the announcement the owners made in December, that they would build a distillery on a small part of the 90 acres known to locals as Firecracker Hill.

The owners said it may make more sense to move their brewing operations to Firecracker Hill where they will be able to build a facility big enough to house them and meet demand for Quaff ON! beers. The Quaff ON! building on State Road 135 North — a former bowling alley — may then be used for aging beer more than it is for brewing.

Corporate headquarters for the company might also be moved to Firecracker Hill, Ryan said.

Only about 5 acres of the 90 will be built upon, he said, in response to a concern brought up at town council last week about other businesses eventually moving in and occupying unused land if all of it is rezoned for general business. “I’m selfish. I want that space just for us,” Ryan said.

For the owners, the end goal is to “increase capacity and create a great experience for people who come to visit Brown County,” McCabe said. “There’s really nothing else behind that that we haven’t told you.”

No one in the Monday night audience voiced nonsupport of the project. It was a completely different group than those who attended last week’s town council meeting. Four speakers at that meeting brought up concerns about traffic, crime, the morality of increased alcohol consumption and production and Brown County’s reputation as an art community.

Brown County Redevelopment Commission and Brown County Council member Keith Baker, who’s also a neighbor to the project site, told the Monday night audience that the redevelopment commission supports this project because of the types of jobs it will create, the low impact it’s expected to have on the land and the fact that craft brewing and distilling is an art form.

“We believe what you’re trying to do is in the best interest of Brown County and it fits the model of what we’re trying to bring to Brown County,” Baker said.

He said that adding nearly 43 acres back onto the tax rolls which have been in property tax-exempt “forest reserve” zoning is another positive.

Baker encouraged people who support the project to come to tonight’s APC meeting and say so, to provide balance to the other comments he suspects will come out.

Ryan and McCabe used an acronym for those opposing voices: CAVE, “citizens against virtually everything.”

“We try to be open-minded. We listen to their input. They do have good points, and we want to take those into account, but I guess what frustrates me is when they talk about what Brown County should look like, they’re not spending any time making it look what they think it should look like,” Ryan said. “They’re spending their time standing in the way of what other people’s vision is, which is a lot easier than making something happen.

“So I would encourage them to pursue their dreams, and understand that what we’re doing is going to take up less than 5 percent of the piece of property.”

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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.