Proposed whisky distillery has fans and critics

May 15 2019 | 06:31 AM

By Frances Ruth Harris
The hearing set up the groundwork for a fight.
Residents got out their dictionaries and looked up the definitions for words like "catering," "restaurant," and "distillery."
Before the town of Chester zoning board on May 9, they debated the pros and cons of the whiskey distillery, named Broccoli Patch, proposed for Kings Highway in Sugar Loaf. The 8,000-square-foot restaurant and catering hall would be sited on two sloping acres at the environmentally sensitive Creamery Pond.
Supporters say it will add to the hamlet's revitalization, now that the town has purchased the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center. Opponents say the development will cause problems with traffic, safety, run-off and flooding, pollution from distillery waste water, air pollution, and parking.
The path to revitalization
The Creamery Pond Coalition (CPC) opposes the project, and set up a web page,, showcasing the many dangers and problems it believes the new distillery will bring.
Member Colleen Mercedes said the group created a 35-page document outlining the code violations they believe the developer, Lewis Donnelly, has already violated, and those he will violate if allowed to move forward. She compared the size and scope of Donnelly's proposal to a cruise ship, when a canoe would be more appropriate.
"The ultimate goal of the CPC regarding Broccoli Patch is to provide an opportunity for local residents, business owners, the property developer, and the Town of Chester to work together to mold the existing proposal into a beautiful, healthy, safe, and gainful development plan that serves as wholly beneficial asset to the Sugar Loaf community," says a petition circulated by the Coalition.
Catello Somma, a business owner and president of the Sugar Loaf Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the project, to a round of applause.
He said he wants Donnelly to build and succeed, now that a revival of Sugar Loaf's abandoned buildings is in the works. He asked how a place so beautiful could appear broken at the same time.
He wants Donnelly, whose establishment would feature cutting-edge technology, to join the hamlet's revitalization. Without business growth, he said, the value of local homes will diminish.
Donnelly said protests reminded him of years ago, when the Creamery Pond housing development was first imagined. People protested the construction of the very homes in which they now lived, he said.
Donnelly said his project will be beautiful, with attractive landscaping and construction in keeping with the spirit of the historic arts and crafts hamlet. He said he didn't want to fight, and only wants a chance.
Catering hall vs. restaurant
Donnelly said he wants his farm-to-table restaurant to be filled with guests every night, but also wants the option of using the facility for catered events in case that doesn't happen. The restaurant and catering hall would be contained in one building, he said.
Photographer Nick Zungoli of Exposures Gallery said he wants Donnelly's establishment to flourish in Sugar Loaf. Other businesses in the hamlet have offered catering, he said, including the longtime former Barnsider Restaurant, which did catering upstairs.
Alex Kemp of the Orange County Partnership said Donnelly's passion shows he is dedicated to the community. He said he hoped the board voted yes.
Ed and Susan Lynch came to the podium individually several times. They asked where the establishment's 150 guests would park.
They also wanted to know if the project was going to be a restaurant or a catering hall, saying the two are not the same. If the project is not permitted, it's prohibited, they said.
Stephen Keahon said manufacturing is regulated in Sugar Loaf.
New resident Pat O'Neil said a catering hall isn't a restaurant, and that they are different and distinctive.
Sue Bahren asked for clarification on the size and the number of people. She wanted to know if the cemetery nearby would be protected.
Steve Mendez said he knows Donnelly and supports his project. He said it would all be good.
Changing proposals
Donnelly doesn't have experience in the venture he's taken on. Damian Bossio asked Donnelly if he had ever run a restaurant, or a catering hall, or a distillery, and Donnelly said "no" to all three questions.
Alex O'Brien emailed The Chronicle, writing that Donnelly "very briefly mentioned at this evening’s zoning board meeting that he significantly changed his site plan again. Donnelly said the restaurant and catering hall would now be combined into one building. However, no one has seen the new site plans and they have not been submitted to the planning board. How can the Zoning Board accurately vote on such a notably revised site plan which no one has seen?"
Chris Maurer said the Creamery Pond Coalition's 35-page document lists what she called dangers and code violations, including the clear-cutting Donnelly has already done on the property. No buffer has been provided, as required by code, she said.
Lydia Cuadros also emailed The Chronicle: "This project is very confusing. Each meeting that I have attended, has a different plan proposal. First it was a distillery/catering hall/residence. Then it was a distillery/catering hall/farm to table restaurant/residence and storage facility. I do not believe they have a solid plan."
Cuadros's letter to the planning and zoning boards said it's not the right type of business for Sugar Loaf. She's concerned about the flammability involved in distilling high-grade ethanol alcohol, and the wooden structure's potential as a fire hazard.
John and Ellen Metzger told The Chronicle before the meeting they attended the hearing in support of Broccoli Patch.
Following an executive session, zoning board chair Vincent Finizia said the board will vote on the project at its June 13 meeting.
And so Finizia brought his last zoning board meeting to a close. He resigned from the zoning board after he was appointed to the town board on May 8, effective May 13, and said he would appoint an acting zoning board chair pending town board approval.