For much of Tuesday night’s meeting of the Cherokee County Planning Commission, the commission extensively reviewed a special use permit application received from Big Door Vineyards.
Currently in an area zoned agricultural, County Zoning Manager Michael Chapman said the farm winery located on Clearwater Trail in the White community is seeking a special use permit to operate as a winery and special event venue.
During the public hearing portion of the case, Joshua Scoggins, a lawyer representing Big Door, explained the special use permit was being submitted to settle a dispute that has been ongoing with neighbors for some time.
Four residents who live in the immediate vicinity of the vineyard voiced their opposition to the permit. Carol Mudd presented a petition she had composed encouraging the planning commission to deny the permit. Mudd claims Big Door is not a winery, but a bar and stated officers from the Cherokee Marshal’s Office have issued two citations after responding to calls from neighbors. A second resident, Miranda Peterson, stated her belief that the events Big Door wants to have will be a nuisance to surrounding properties and that the potential for drunk drivers leaving the winery will present a danger.
Another resident, Russell Giudicessi, said he believed the winery had evolved from its original purpose into a commercial operation and has become a nuisance. He also said a traffic study needs to be done to determine if events at Big Door could create dangerous conditions on Ga. Highway 20, which Clearwater Trail branches off of.
Offering a rebuttal to the comments made by neighboring residents, Big Door’s lawyer Scoggins said he appreciated everyone’s passion but added that the citations issued by the marshal’s office were still pending jury trials.
Once the public hearing was closed, planning commissioners had a handful of questions. Commission Chairman Bob Whitaker asked how much wine Big Door can produce, with the vineyard’s owner stating that, at full production, it can produce approximately 3,000 cases of wine. Whitaker and the commission also asked about a sister winery Big Door has, the capacity of its current tasting room, the purpose of having more than one tasting room and how many more tasting rooms were proposed to be built on the site. In response, the planning commission was told Big Door leases 10 acres of land in South Georgia, that the tasting room can hold around 45 people indoors and 45 people on the outdoor porch, additional tasting rooms would allow for more than one event to be held at the winery at one time and that the intent was to have only one more tasting room. Planning commissioners also asked for clarification on what time special events at the facility would be ending, as there seemed to be some discrepancy in the permit application, with one portion suggesting 8 p.m. and another saying 10 p.m. The answer was given that everyone is to be gone and the premises empty by 10 p.m.
Whitaker asked planning commissioners if they would rather vote on the whole special use permit at once, or if they would prefer to go through all of the items listed by Big Door in the application one at a time, with planning commissioner Tom Hill suggesting going line by line through the permit application.
The commission held an overall consensus that there was not an issue with allowing the sampling of flights of wine from other farm wineries in the state of Georgia, nor with the sale of both wines produced by Big Door and those from other Georgia farm wineries. Commissioners expressed some hesitation about allowing for the on-premises consumption and sale of malt beverages for off-site consumption produced by Georgia craft breweries at Big Door. Planning commissioners also said they have no objection to the sale of bread, meat and cheese platters to go with wine tastings and the sale of locally produced crafts, jams and jellies, as well as allowing private special events to end at 10 p.m., specifically that the premises must be vacated by this time.
After discussion on allowing the winery to also serve as a special event facility, planning commissioners said they were not opposed to this use, with the exception that all music would need to be confined to an enclosed structure and the sound level conform to county law. Planning commissioners opposed the use of outdoor speakers at the site, as well as allowing for special dinner events and food truck events four times per month. However, after agreeing on allowing it to be used as a special event facility, the commission members came to the consensus of a limit of four private special events per month. Lastly, while planning commissioners said they could not support allowing a second tasting room at Big Door, nor allowing glass portions and serving bottles of wine on the rest of the premises outside the tasting room, they saw no issue with allowing the winery to advertise ongoing events it might be hosting.
After going through each of the various list items and gathering a consensus on them, a motion was made and seconded to recommend approval of the permit, although specifying only the items the commission had agreed upon were to be included with the permit.