Saint Lawrence Spirits project gets ‘go ahead’ from Clayton

Saint Lawrence Spirits will be able to launch a distillery at the former Fairview Manor property on Route 12E in Clayton, following both a State Supreme Court decision and approval from the town’s Joint Planning Board. Submitted Photo.

Saint Lawrence Spirits will be able to launch a distillery at the former Fairview Manor property on Route 12E in Clayton, following both a State Supreme Court decision and approval from the town’s Joint Planning Board. Submitted Photo.

The town’s Joint Planning Board wasted no time following a State Supreme Court decision to approve the location of the Saint Lawrence Spirits distillery.

On June 8, State Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky ruled in favor of the town of Clayton and the future occupiers of property on Route 12 in a lawsuit challenging a decision to “land” Saint Lawrence Spirits’s in a zone that would allow for the operation of a distillery and events venue.

That same day the Joint Planning Board approved a resolution granting the business a special use permit for the parcel.

The lawsuit was brought against the town and Saint Lawrence Spirits and the owner of the former Fairview Manor site by neighboring property owners Ronald J. Cooper, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Hurley and Hurley LLC, of Newark Valley; and Jeff K. and Courtney Zoller, of Clinton.

The lawsuit claimed the town’s decision to change the site’s zoning from marine residential to marine development 2 was unconstitutional “spot zoning.”

The lawsuit hinged a lot on whether or not the town’s decision was arbitrary.

Judge McClusky’s decision found that the town’s decision was not made arbitrarily.

“The court understands the plaintiff’s opposition to project,” the decision states. “The court cannot say that the decision was arbitrary. It is not up to the court to second guess the town’s reasoned considerations and determinations.”

The plaintiff argued the distillery would constitute an “agricultural processing plant,” which must be located 1,000 feet from residential lines under zoning laws.

Judge McClusky agreed it was a valid point but said it would be premature for the court to consider the issue, because the Planning Board had not considered it and could still deny the project unless it obtained a use variant.

Distillery co-owner Jody C. Garrett said the business is not an agricultural processing plant.

However the plaintiff’s attorney, Robert J. Slye, said McClusky’s opinion on this point gives his clients another option.

“All the court said was that it was premature to make a decision at that point,” Mr. Slye said. “The owners of the distillery gave all types of reasons why it was not an agricultural plant, but the problem is the court thinks it is.”

He said he is not sure if his clients will want to pursue new options.

The plaintiff also questioned the size of the manufacturing operation fitting the zoning requirement, but Judge McClusky said it would be “premature” to decide whether or not the business will be able to function within the parcel.

Now all that is left to do is for the owners of the distillery to sign the final paperwork.

Mr. Slye said if the owners of the distillery had just agreed to hold all its events indoors, the lawsuit would not have been necessary.

“That was the terms for the original occupiers of the property as part of the special permit,” Mr. Slye said. “They violated it and that’s what got them shut down. If they agreed to that we probably wouldn’t be looking at new options.

Mr. Garrett said he has tried to compromise with his neighbors and will continue to do so.

He said the business is working on a buffer plan to minimize light coming from the parking lot.

The business is also minimizing the size of a proposed events tent and wedding receptions were removed from the business’s event options; both points of concern brought up at the Joint Planning Board meetings.

“Our vision to revive Fairview Manor from its dilapidated state into a productive use and to serve as a source of economic development for Clayton is becoming a reality,” Mr. Garrett said. “The recent decisions allow Saint Lawrence Spirits to move forward with plans to open for business.”

By Richard Moody, Watertown Daily Times