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HOMER CITY: Distillery issue surfaces again

by By HEATHER BLAKE and ELLEN MATIS, news@indianagazette.net on April 03, 2013 11:00 AM

HOMER CITY — The public provided more comment regarding the proposed microdistillery on Main Street before borough council Tuesday, less than a week after a planning commission heard heated debate from the community and members of a neighborhood church on the matter.

Robert Begg, who was present with Disobedient Spirits LLC partner Robert Sechrist, said he felt he should come to the meeting to introduce himself and told council he and Sechrist still think Homer City “is a great investment.”

“We would look forward to being here, and we want to be members of this community, not just for the storefront, but we hope to invest in other ways, and to work with you in any way (so that) this can become a better place,” Begg told council.

Begg said he and Sechrist “regret the turmoil” that has been created but that it was never their intention to “do anything but have a high-quality product for high-quality customers, and we hope we can still do that.”

The Rev. Joseph Stains, pastor of Homer City United Methodist Church and a leader of Indiana Area Celebrate Recovery, said he hoped the borough would consider the implications of putting a distillery “next door to a place where people are trying to overcome their problems” with alcohol.

“That proximity is a pretty tough social, and civic and even ethical issue given that people have had a difficult time getting back on their feet” and that the property “is not the best location” close to a spiritual community, he said.

Stains said he understands the value of having a profitable business, “but I think we have to be careful what we mean by ‘quality clientele.’ That phrase can imply something about the value of people that is subjective. We’ve got to be careful about that”

He also said there are lots of business alternatives that would be appropriate next door, such as a health and wholeness center that would offer exercise and healthy food models and advice on “how to have a complete and healthy life” — just one of many alternatives.

Begg told Stains that Disobedient Spirits would occupy only half of the building, the half adjacent to a bar, Our Place, “which is approximately the same distance to your church as we will be.”

Begg also said that he and Sechrist are looking for tenants for the other half of the building, and one of the people Begg has been talking to is Keith Vanhoose at Wellness Concepts, “who would do exactly what you would like on the half of the building adjacent to the church.”

He also said that if it made a difference to Homer City, “we don’t need to be open on Sundays.” He also said they “would not give away free samples, and we’re not going to give away cheap samples.” He added that they will be limited to 1 ounce of alcohol, or two half-ounce portions when they open because they will have only two things to taste, and they intend to do it “rather expensively.”

“We’re willing to accommodate the citizens as many ways as we can, but we will not be adjacent” to the church, Begg said.

Former borough council member Paul Porch told council he hopes it listens to the people, but he said he is not sure that will happen.

Council President Richard Morris told Porch that council does not have its mind made up, and reiterated to council members and the public in attendance that the issue has been tabled until the Homer City Planning Commission conducts further research and other public input to get feedback on the distillery. He emphasized that the issue was not before council at Tuesday’s meeting to allow the planning commission time to receive public feedback. Once the planning commission reaches a recommendation, which could be as early as its next meeting, it would go to council for a vote.

“We appreciate everybody coming down, we appreciate everyone’s input, both sides, regardless of how any one of us may feel,” Morris said, saying he has not introduced or asked anyone on council for their input on the matter and that no decision’s been reached.

As of now, the next planning commission hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 23 at the fire hall, once the borough goes through the proper legal advertising requirements and at least three of the five planning commission members are confirmed to be present for a quorum. It will be open to the public.

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