HOMER CITY – A proposal to make vodka, rum and whiskey at a microdistillery in a small Western Pennsylvania city is running up against concerns over the effect of the liquor on addicts who meet next door and questions on whether it should be permitted in a commercial zone.
A Homer City Planning Commission hearing, put on hold Thursday after nearly an hour and a half of public comment, is expected to be resumed within 45 days, The Indiana Gazette reported.
The proposed Disobedient Spirits distillery, the idea of two Indiana University of Pennsylvania professors, would also provide a retail store where customers can purchase products and samples.
The professors, Robert Sechrist and Robert Begg, argued that their distillery should be treated as a commercial, not industrial, enterprise and be allowed to start up at its proposed Main Street location next to Homer City United Methodist Church, which houses addiction recovery meetings.
Sechrist said he believes they can make vodka for $17 per bottle, before taxes, and whiskey for $45 to $50 per bottle. Drinking on the premises would be limited by law to 1.5 ounces, or the equivalent of one shot, per person.
Council President Richard Morris defended the distillery as a way to boost the economy.
“(Sechrist’s) not turning it into an illustrious, alcoholic town,” Morris said. “He wants to bring a little bit of business into town.”
But critics, led by religious leaders, questioned the need for an establishment that would be in such close proximity to addicts. The Rev. Harold Hicks, of Harvest Anglican Church, said Disobedient Spirits should be in an industrial zone.
“Put it out there instead of making it part of your Main Street where it becomes a hazard,” Hicks said. For an alcoholic, Hicks said, even tasting half an ounce of the liquor “could be a life or death decision for them.”
The Rev. Joseph Stains, the pastor of Homer City United Methodist, suggested a health and homeless center would be better at the location.
“It’s the wrong place,” Stains said. “It’s a commercial zone next door to where we’re trying to help lost people get on their feet and save their souls. …Where in this commercial plan is something redemptive for the lives of the people that it could affect adversely?”