Sewickley Hills, distillery owner still at odds over public access

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 | 3:39 PM


A Sewickley Hills distillery seeking to allow the public to visit for sales, tours and tastings must submit physical plans in order to get the necessary approval, according to the borough's council president.

Kim McLaughlin of Neville Island opened McLaughlin Distillery this year after council approved a site plan and conditional use permit in February.

But the approval from Sewickley Hills precluded regional sales, organized tours or tastings on site because of insufficient parking.

McLaughlin said he wants to open the distillery to the public. He said he spoke to council in May, requesting the restrictions on his business be lifted. He said he was advised he'd have to go back to the beginning and reapply for the same permissions he received.

“They basically told me I had to file a whole new plan and so that's the way it was left,” he said.

McLaughlin said he doesn't want to return to square one. But Sewickley Hills Council President Cindy Phillips this week said the borough isn't asking McLaughlin to start from the beginning.

Phillips said McLaughlin has to submit a plan for what he wants to do, but hasn't done so yet.

“That plan must be submitted to the planning commission, including the solicitor and the engineer, in order to verify that he meets the ordinances as they are written, and then it goes to council for approval,” she said. “Because he has not submitted a plan, there is nothing that we can vote on.”

Phillips said council discussed the distillery at the October general meeting after a citizen raised the issue.

Phillips said the process has been explained to McLaughlin more than once, including at a planning commission meeting he attended along with Sewickley landscape architect Steven Victor. They discussed what they wanted to do, but never submitted plans, she said.

Phillips said McLaughlin the borough's requirements for the distillery are “just like any other business in the commercial district.”

“We're waiting on him to submit his plan,” she said.

Phillips said most of the work required for the plan is already done, McLaughlin will have to address some sections of ordinance before because he was not open to the public originally.

She said the cost to submit a plan is $500, which covers the borough's cost for its engineer and solicitor to review it.

McLaughlin said he disagrees with what the borough is saying.

“My application was for retail sales, but they dragged it out for months on end, and then they approved my application for retail sales, but with restrictions of no bottle sales, no tastings and no tours,” he said. “So that's the approval they gave me. It's a little bit contradictory.

“If they wanted to fix it, they could fix it, but they just don't. I don't know what the driving force is behind it.”

McLaughlin offers internet sales and plans to sell in the Sewickley Winter Market. He said the response the public response to his bourbon and other spirits has been great, but believes his business would do better if he were allowed to have tastings and offer on-site sales. Because he offers no public hours, McLaughlin doesn't have a sign out front.

“It's been good, you know? It's just too bad we can't sell here,” he said.

Larissa Dudkiewicz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.