Nelson County takes first step to temporarily stop bourbon industry expansion

The fiscal court voted 5-1 on a 90 day moratorium on building permits issued for distillery projects
Published: Apr. 14, 2023 at 5:31 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BARDSTOWN, Ky. (WAVE) - The bourbon capitol of the world could be entering a new era of prohibition.

Nelson County leaders took the first vote approving a moratorium on construction permits for the bourbon industry.

The measure is widely seen as payback for the loss of a tax on aging bourbon.

“We want to work with the bourbon industry, but we got to make sure it’s done... there’s a reason why we have planning and zoning, and the reason why is to have smart growth and structured growth,” Nelson County Judge Executive Tim Hutchins said.

In a five-to-one vote, the Nelson County Fiscal Court took the first step to stop issuing new building permits for the bourbon industry here for three months. Hutchins said the industry’s rapid growth has alarmed his constituents.

“Maybe nothing will come out of it, but I was elected by the citizens of Nelson County and I’m listening to their concerns,” Hutchins said.

The County cited the loss of prime agricultural land and the burden put on public infrastructure by distillers to issue this prohibition on building permits.

However, one industry member viewed this vote as retaliation for the county’s failed effort to stop the gradual repeal of a tax on bourbon barrels.

“Absolutely, this is a retaliatory action, we sat in that room and they said they had no studies and nothing to support the claims that were made,” Heaven Hill Distillery General Counsel Jessica Pendergrass said.

Pendergrass said bourbon tourism drew 600,000 visitors to Nelson County last year. She said one of every 10 jobs here is connected to distilling in some way.

“If you’re a county that doesn’t want us, there are other counties that are more than happy to have that business,” Pendergrass said.

The moratorium allows building permits to be issued on industrial property and permits connected to existing industrial bonds issued by the County.

Magistrate Keith Metcalfe cast the lone no vote. He said this policy sends Nelson County in the wrong direction.

“I want to welcome, I want to open, I want to make it easier on them, and like I say, I thought this court was going to be less restrictive, and now we’re more restrictive,” Metcalfe said.

The final decision on this ordinance hasn’t been made. It’ll be voted on again in May.