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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Plant City Courier

Plant City winery supporters, opponents to square off

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People who oppose Keel and Curley Winery’s rezoning for beer brewing and sales say they don’t want to shut down the business.

They say they worry that what started as a blueberry farm with a winery and tasting room has evolved into a bar serving wine and beer by the glass. The place can get noisy at night and crowded with cars, they say.

“People don’t move to the country to have a saloon in their neighborhood,” said Shirley Morgan, who came to the area 30 years ago with her husband, Ernest.

Equally impassioned supporters, including some of the winery’s closest neighbors, say Keel and Curley deserves its rezoning for beer brewing and sales.

The two sides — both with petitions containing many signatures — will square off Tuesday at a public hearing in front of Hillsborough County commissioners.

The rezoning would clear the way for something that already is taking place. Keel and Curley has sold beer and wine by the glass for years and opened its microbrewery a year ago with much fanfare and publicity.

Winery owners have said they have sought — and obtained — government approval every step of the way as they added on-site consumption and a microbrewery. They also have offered compromises that include limits on hours and days, curbs on off-site parking and live outdoor music, and caps on the number and duration of festivals.

The winery north of Interstate 4 at 5210 Thonotosassa Road sought the rezoning after county code inspectors cited the business for beer sales. Inspectors say sales were not allowed under terms of the special conditions of a 2005 zoning at the 27-acre winery.

County land-use hearing officer Steve Luce recommends county commissioners approve the rezoning request with the compromises offered by the winery. Luce wrote in his 16-page report the owners acted in good faith and with county and state permits in hand.

Luce’s report notes that some residents who live close to the 10-year-old winery testified in its favor at a land-use hearing.

Opponents maintain government agencies erred in granting permits that allowed the winery’s operations to expand in the first place.

Ray Young, whose family has had property in the area for eight decades, said he didn’t mind the winery and its tasting room. But he said a microbrewery and sales of beer by the glass have no place in the rural community.

“They are making profits on the backs of neighbors with reckless concern,” he said. “It’s never been about shutting down the winery; it’s about what the winery has become.”

Young is an appointed member of Hillsborough’s City-County Planning Commission but said he is acting as a private citizen in helping organize opposition.

The opponents have held weekly meetings at Bethany Baptist Church. During a session last week, they listed a number of concerns about the winery, from the amount of water it is pumping from its well to environmental issues, pointing to a July 18 warning letter the county’s Environmental Protection Commission sent to the winery about wastewater discharges.

The opponents fear their way of life will be altered permanently if the rezoning is approved.

“People in this whole community need to stand up and be heard,” said Myrle Henry, who lives near the winery. “We’ve got to fight for what we believe in.”

Joe Keel, president and chief executive officer of the winery, said he wouldn’t comment prior to Tuesday’s hearing.

In an interview earlier this year, Keel said he didn’t think the business overstepped its bounds.

“In all honesty, this whole interpretation that we’re not allowed to sell beer is their opinion,” he said then. “We’ve never done anything against the county law or state law.”

Twitter: @dnicholsonTBO

dnicholson@tampatrib.com

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