Downtown Asbury Park hopes to be home to New Jersey’s first craft distillery. In 2003, the state legislature amended state laws to permit craft distilleries, the first time such a move has been made since the Prohibition era.
Asbury Park Distilling, LLC. is seeking to have the city’s downtown central business district’s (CBD) zoning amended to allow light industry in a 4,000-square-foot craft distillery at 527 Lake Ave., located in the Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten, which is now under construction.
“I propose you consider allowing it and a larger discussion (of the zoning amendment) is warranted. I think it is an excellent addition to the commercial area,” said Donald Sammet, the city’s redevelopment and planning director, at the Oct. 15 City Council meeting.
The council must recommend sending the proposed zoning change to the Planning Board for comment. If the change is approved, the project still needs to come before the Planning Board for site plan approval.
There will be a tasting area but no food will be served and there will be no bar. There woud be retail and wholesale only of the distillery’s product, which would be gin and whiskey.
“It will be a small operation and will be allowed to distill up to 20,000 gallons of product a year. It’s a good advertising and marketing tool and another draw for us (downtown),” Sammet said.
Customers would be permitted to purchase up to five liters of spirits.
“It is a significant process to go through and we would not be putting the money down if we are not serious,” said project attorney Andrew Karas, who is also one of the partners.
“This could be really nice if it is done well. You create a very unique product,” Councilman John Loffredo said.
City Manager Jack Kelly said that this type of use was not originally considered in the CBD and Mayor Myra Campbell said she would prefer such a distillery be placed in areas already zoned for light industry, such as along the southern sections of Memorial Drive.
“We should look at the entire city and (if these projects) are always put in the central business district then we might wait years and years and years to build up the West Side,” she said.
Sammet said that the distillery is not a manufacturing use suited to only a light industry area and that there will be no tractor-trailer trucks
“It should fit in nicely downtown,” he said.
“Asbury Park is unique and this is a unique thing,” Deputy Mayor Sue Henderson said.
She said she would like to see more light industry located along Memorial Drive but the distillery seems a good fit for downtown.
“This is the first of its kind in New Jersey and, to me, that is huge,’ Councilwoman Amy Quinn said.
In the end, the council voted to move the proposed zoning change on the Planning Board for review.
Councilman John Moor said he would like to see other amendments made to the central business district zone, such a those affecting parking and other issues.
“Let’s start thinking outside the box,” he said.