Since CanGro canning factory in St. Davids closed in 2008, a significant amount of fruit mash and soft fruit has been tossed back into the orchards — around 3,000 tonnes of it.
A proposed small scale craft distillery could change that, by doing what Niagara has become known for — turning it into liquor.
“It'll take waste product and turn it into something that can be sold, used, marketed, and a benefit to many area growers,” said Arnie Lepp, president of Lepp Orchards.
The distillery, proposed by local company A.J. Lepp Orchards Ltd., would be a one-storey farm-style building located on the north side of Lakeshore Road near Irvine Road and Firelane 13.
The proposal went before a Town committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, outlining the main operations of the business.
Lepp Orchards, which owns more than 200 acres of land in NOTL, would deliver soft fruit and mash from its farms, as well as fruit from other farms — about 500 acres worth — to the distillery where it would be refrigerated before fermentation.
The distillery would be the second in NOTL, after Gretsky Winery.
Heather Sewell, of Niagara Planning Group — an urban development company out of Niagara Falls — told council the project would be on 3.4 hectares of land that’s currently being used as a peach orchard.
The land is surrounded by residential houses, though the proposal said events would be limited to weekends and would be held indoors.
The proposal did not request zoning for outdoor events. A.J Lepp representatives said there would only be indoor events, so neighbours would not be bothered by the noise.
A small patio is to face Firelane 13, which was said would not be a noise problem.
The project has support from the Agriculture Committee, said Sewell, noting it would add value to the farming industry, allowing fruit growers to once again make back some of the money from unsellable product.
As well, she said the project would add to the “authenticity” of the experience for those visiting NOTL.
And while the idea seemed to get a positive response from councillors, there were some initial concerns.
The facility is to use a nearby drainage pipe, and Coun. Mazza asked what preventative measures the distillery would use to make sure nothing untoward got in, noting the same pipe has experienced issues in the past, when some sort of “milky white substance” got into it.
Coun. John Wiens also voiced concerns about the smell of 3,000 tonnes of rotting fruit, though Lepp assured councillors the smell will not be an issue because of the process he intends to use.
The main concern about the proposal was traffic safety on Lakeshore Road, brought up by Coun. Paolo Miele and spoken to by Lakeshore Road resident John Woolley, who said he was representing 19 other home owners in the area.
Woolley had a long list of accidents that have occurred on the part of Lakeshore Road where the proposed driveway to the Lepp Distillery would be, noting several fatalities.
He said part of the problem is people try to pass transport trucks that are slowing down, and end up driving into incoming traffic.
Having trucks delivering fruit mash from more than 700 acres to the distillery would cause a significant safety risk, Woolley said.
He said the only option he can see for the distillery to work and simultaneously keep an already dangerous part of the road safe is “to move it.”
Miele and Woolley both noted the speed limit in that part of the road is still 80km/h and the road only has two lanes.
Coun. Betty Disero, who liked the idea, asked Lepp to consider building
Both Miele and lay-by for trucks to pull off to the side of the road before turning so drivers would be less tempted to try and pass in such a dangerous zone.
Part of the problem council will have in approving the zoning is distilleries are not defined in the town’s Official Plan.
It was discussed whether it would be best to base the recommendations off of the Gretsky distillery, which was approved without an Official Plan amendment, though council members seemed to unanimously agree there were plenty of other similar projects to use as examples, such as wineries.
The problem Lepp faces is his proposal does not meet the 10-acre requirement to be approved under the guidelines of a winery.
The proposed Lepp Distillery property falls slightly short of that, between eight and nine acres, said Sewell.
Lepp pointed out the project is not entirely a one location operation, and would benefit more than 700 acres of farm land in the town when other farms were considered.
“It’s not just one 9-acre farm. It’s a fairly significant operation in NOTL.”