P&Z approves new downtown distillery, group home for young adults

Commissioners also agree to rehear an application for a convenience store with fuel sales on Shurling Drive


Liz Fabian

The Longleaf Distilling Company will be built inside the old If It’s Paper location at 664 Second Street.

Downtown Macon will be home to a new liquor micro-distillery after the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission approved the project Monday.

Joining the multiple micro-breweries already operating in the Central Business District, Longleaf Distilling Company will make whiskey and other liquors in the old “If It’s Paper” location at 664 Second St.

Partners Will Robinson, of Robinson Home interior design firm, and David Thompson, of Piedmont Construction Group, will develop a signature whiskey that will be barreled and stored on site.

Plans call for building a tasting room, outdoor patio and production area. They will run a 150-gallon-still for gin and an old-style copper still for other spirits.

They will be blending and distilling whiskey, gin, vodka and rum with mash from two local beer pubs, according to the application. Mash is the fermented mixture of water, grain and yeast that is distilled into liquor.

Most distilleries do their own fermentation, but it takes a lot of space to store raw grain, Robinson said. He plans to outsource fermentation but using his own recipes.

After researching the project for about two-and-a-half years and looking at locations, the partners chose the vacant, 5,000-square-foot store on Second Street.

“It really goes back to the core of what we’re trying to do – a community-focused distillery. We don’t really have plans to get huge, huge or anything like that. We didn’t want a giant warehouse out in an industrial park somewhere. We wanted to be downtown where the people are,” Robinson said.

While he is not ruling out distributing products, it will depend on how many restaurants are interested in serving their brand.

P&Z changed the code this year to provide for micro-distilleries, which are limited to producing less than 500 barrels a year and cannot be built within 200 feet of a residence.  Although future residential developments along the Second Street corridor have been talked about for years, the closest existing residence on Plum Street meets distance requirements.

The county’s William P. Randall Building is reflected in the far right window of the new distillery location at 664 Second St. Mayor Lester Miller is moving county offices from that building to make way for potential future development. (Liz Fabian)

The distillery will face the William P. Randall government center that currently houses the Macon-Bibb County Tax Assessors Office and Land Bank Authority. Mayor Lester Miller is shifting some of those county offices to the old IBM building the county purchased last year at the corner of Walnut and First streets. The county is expected to sell the Second Street building to allow for potential future development.

The distillery owners plan to spruce up the plain 1967 brick building as they get ready for production and tours.

“We are going to be doing some façade improvements, getting rid of those ugly plate glass windows and making it look less like a liquor store,” Robinson said.

Brick columns and new window panels will be installed.

“That will have a little more historic feel to it than a 1960s laundromat or liquor store,” Robinson said. “And we’re adding a pergola… bringing that eye-line of the building up and provide a little bit of shade for the new deck going out on the side.”

Robinson and his interior designer wife, Carrie, are already working on the atmosphere that’s expected to be a little “quirky” and different but “feels like home.”

The couple, who both grew up around Asheville, North Carolina, settled in Macon after graduating from Mercer University and initially opened up a gourmet shop on First Street. They now have the design firm on Hawthorne Street.

The Longleaf name is a nod to Georgia’s pines, he said.

“We really love Macon. It’s our home,” Robinson said.

Robinson said he has no interest in running a late-night bar or restaurant, but plans to open the distillery to the public from about 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Liquor production could happen seven days a week between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., but not while the public is in the building, he told P&Z.

A small alley runs from Poplar Street properties, between Fall Line Brewing Company and Emerson Ball room, and leads to a greenway that ends near the distillery. (Liz Fabian)

A small catering kitchen will be included and the distillery will be open for tours.

Neighboring business owner Mike Wilson questioned whether there is enough parking, but Thompson said they had an agreement to share parking with Elite Flooring Contractors next-door on the corner of Plum Street.

Robinson is hoping the distillery will be the first of many new businesses on that southwest side of downtown. He envisions a future greenway link from Taste & See on Poplar Street, past Fall Line Brewing Company, across Plum Street to behind the flooring contractor and leading up to the Plum Street Lane next to the distillery.

“It’s exciting. It’s just about activating that whole area there,” Robinson said. “That whole side of town needs a lot of love.”

A new home after foster care

Two businesswomen are working to provide housing for young adults aging out of foster care .

Joycelyn Adams and Shanaia Brown, of Stone Mountain, told P&Z commissioners there are about 1100 people in need of such housing in the Bibb County region. They plan to provide eight beds at a group home at 4528 Cavalier Drive.

The residence would be open to those referred by the Division of Family & Children Services for those ages 17 to 22.

Last summer, Adams’ Amircola New Beginnings Second Chance came before P&Z with a request for a re-entry facility or “halfway house” on the property, but withdrew the application in favor of the new proposal.

The residents “will not have any prior offenses, or will they have any behavior disorder issues or substance abuse issues,” according to the application.

“Some had a hard childhood,” Brown said. “No one has a criminal record… just foster kids aging out and DFACs is finding them independent living.”

“The kids that cannot be adopted… they’re not staying at hotels and the state is paying,” Adams told commissioners.

“There’s a big need for this,” Brown said.

Amircola will convert a 1,640-square-foot-insurance office built in 1990 to house beds and bathrooms.

They will have round-the-clock staff who will assist with transportation as part of their first venture into such an operation.

Commissioners unanimously approved the home that will help prepare residents with job and career readiness, financial planning and wellness assistance.

Reconsidering convenience store

After P&Z denied a convenience store application for 1928 Shurling Drive at the January 24 meeting, commissioners will give it a second look.

Applicant Jim Rollins of the Summit Group asked for a rehearing for the fuel center with alcohol packaged to go.

In January, Commissioners were concerned about diesel tanks and fuel trucks encroaching on neighboring residents of Bayswater Road.

Rollins submitted a revised plan that eliminates the diesel islands and entrance on Bayswater Road and shifts the Knightsbridge Road access farther off Shurling Drive.

Commissioners agreed to rehear the application with those changes on March 28.

In other business

174 Calloway Drive – Landscape improvements approved for Ross Pino.

461 Third St. – NewTown Macon’s The Office business incubator approved next to the Bibb Theater to supplement the 555 Poplar St. location they have outgrown.

487 Cherry St. – Commissioners approved new signage for the Dozier Law Firm, that includes a logo clock under the cupola of the brick building that most recently housed administrative offices of The Telegraph.

916 Elm St. – Exterior modifications approved for Sonia Cienfuegos’ house renovation.

1330 Forsyth St. – Landscaping modifications for William Shimp.

1464 Calhoun St. – Exterior modifications approved for Historic Macon Foundation renovation.

Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.