Whiskey Distillery approved in GMF; donkeys still in question

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  • Whiskey Distillery approved in GMF; donkeys still in question

Rick Langenberg

The 13th time emerged as the charm for local business owner and culinary wizard Victor Matthews in his bid for an artisan whiskey distillery that he hopes will put Green Mountain Falls on the international tourism map.

With a little luck, the distillery could be open by the July 4th weekend for tastings and other festivities. “We now have a distillery,” said Mayor Lorrie Worthey, a big proponent of the project.

With strong support from local elected leaders and residents, Matthews recently got the thumbs-up for a special use permit allowing the business to operate at the site of the former Black Bear restaurant, owned and operated by Matthews for many years. In order for the project to move forward, town leaders had to grant a special permit since a distillery isn’t a legal use at this site.

For Matthews, it marked his 13th appearance before the local planning commission and trustees, as he began the process with a previous group of leaders and planners. He also conducted a number of informal meetings to outline the project details.

The distillery would develop an historic, authentic whiskey-making process that extends from the old-fashioned farm to the final glass and uses a stone mill. The final product will consist of special “Moon Shine” whiskey with a Colorado flavor. The product is described as Irish-style, single malt whiskey, boasting a nearly 50 percent alcohol, 90-proof contents and containing 100 percent distilled barley

Throughout approval process, Matthews has endured many bureaucratic delays with planners and trustees struggling over the rules to possibly accommodate the new proposed business. Under the new permit, the operation would be reviewed on an annual basis and it could be revoked, if the business violates certain conditions.

Even with the distillery approval, questions still persist about the use of rescue donkeys to rotate the distillery’s stone wheel, as part of the grain-making process and to establish a tourist attraction. The town is currently reviewing its laws regarding what animals are allowed in town. Currently, the town prohibits donkeys, chickens and most livestock, but it does allow horses and certain exotic animals.

The trustees held a public hearing on the animal prohibition issue on June 2, but didn’t make any decisions.

Matthews urged town leaders to review its current rules regarding the current animals it prohibits. “I would suggest some alterations,” said Matthews, in describing the inconsistencies with the current rules. “I could fill my parking lot with camels (with the current rules).”

Several residents suggested coming up with a more defined list of what animals should be permitted in town and maybe allowing certain exceptions. Still, some residents and business owners aren’t crazy about opening the door to donkeys and burros. “I have concerns,” said

Dave Pearlman, a property owner and local lodging owner, who abuts the Black Bear Distillery.

Pearlman has supported the new distillery, but concedes he has worries about the use of the donkeys and has reservations about adding donkeys to animals that should be permitted in town. “I want to make sure there is no odor or flies,” said Pearlman. “We want an immediate recourse if there is a problem.”

If the town maintains its prohibition against donkeys, Matthews still could obtain a special permit that allows the use of the rescue burros on a limited basis. According to his latest proposal, the donkeys wouldn’t be housed overnight at the distillery location. “I can operate this in an animal-friendly and town-friendly way,” said Matthews, who described the donkeys as more of a family attraction.

Matthews said he plans to open the distillery in early July, whether the operation is donkey-less or not.

The good ol’ boy days are over

In other GMF news, town officials maintained that the old days of allowing certain perks for business owners or residents through the good ol’ boy system are over.

In a firm statement against the former operations of the town, attorney Matt Krob said the laws have to be applied universally. “The rules are the rules,” said Krob, in outlining some complaints by property owners, contractors and business operators who may have received fee breaks and special perks in the past, and are wondering why they aren’t happening now. “That is a good way to land the town in federal court,” said Krob, in describing an inconsistent enforcement of its codes that may have occurred in the past.

For example, town clerk Mary Duval said that only a small portion of vacation rentals are on the books. “We are trying to get away from preferential treatment,” said Duval.

The town leaders also broke away from past trends by announcing that it plans to use The (Colorado Springs) Gazette as its official newspaper of record for posting ordinances and notices. This is the first time local leaders have used a Colorado Springs publication for its legal designation in recent memory.