NEW DISTILLERY COMING TO ISLAMORADA’S PLANTATION KEY

Participants of the 2019 bra walk stop for a drink at Islamorada Beer Company. FILE PHOTO

A permit allowing the sale of alcohol for a new distillery on Plantation Key garnered approval via a 4-1 vote during an Islamorada Village Council meeting on April 21. 

Inside Founders Park Community Center, a sea of supporters packed the gallery with stickers reading “We Support Crooked Palm Distillery.” A brewery, distillery and tasting room run by Islamorada Brewery & Distillery will occupy bottom floor space at the former BB&T building at MM 90.1, bayside. The request for a permit, however, didn’t go without some concerns from residents on Gardenia Street who live close to the new distillery and Plantation Key Colony.

Hank Flores, senior planner, briefed council on the permit request for on-premise consumption of alcohol in an area that contains a mix of homes and commercial buildings. The site of the new distillery isn’t far from the new 7/11 that’s open 24 hours. The Payfair grocery store, which sells alcohol, and Capt. Craig’s, which serves beer, are also close. 

Jose Herrera, co-owner of Islamorada Brewery & Distillery, speaks to concerned citizens and the dais. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Also close are homes on Gardenia Street. Several residents in that neighborhood took a moment to convey their concerns to the dais. One of them was Gardenia Street resident Angie Isalgue. She told the dais she works from home and witnesses the activity on Palm Avenue and Gardenia throughout the day, including many children stopping at the new 7/11 for a pizza or Slurpee. 

During weekends, she said, the area sees more pedestrian traffic during times when one would expect a brewery packed with adults consuming alcohol. With only a few Freebee vehicles in the village, Isalgue said it could mean more adults consuming alcohol and driving under the influence. 

“I want you to think of these children and the future children of Plantation Key Colony when considering this license to consume liquor in a pedestrian-heavy area,” she said. “Rejecting this request for the license would protect the children of Plantation Key and surrounding areas.”

The new distillery is across the street from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Tavernier — a staff analysis states a distance of 149 feet from the proposed use. Per code, no production, manufacture, brewing or sale of alcoholic beverages can take place within 300 feet of the church. Chris Trentine, co-owner of Islamorada Brewery & Distillery, visited the church to speak to its council regarding the plans for a distillery. With questions answered, the church wrote a letter to the village stating it wouldn’t contest the permit. 

“We appreciate his ‘good neighbor attitude’ in requesting a meeting with our council to address any concerns our congregation may have with his proposal and potential liquor license,” the letter reads. 

Larisa Baste, manager of Islamorada Brewery & Distillery at MM 82, said misconceptions are floating around over what’s proposed for the distillery. Baste said it won’t emulate the location to the south. Baste said it’s not about slamming shots, but more finding something new. 

“What we want to do is do something specific to the fact that this area is a residential area,” she said. “We want to be somewhere that the families of this community will want to come and hang out. We want to provide a different space from what we already have in that area, another option that’s not a dive bar or restaurant that’s a place to relax.”

From left, Councilman David Webb and Councilman Henry Rosenthal. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Jose Herrera, co-owner of Islamorada Brewery & Distillery, said they’re already approved for a brewery. Speaking to concerned residents, Herrera said residents should expect the employees to be the “most amazing human beings.”

“We have Ivy League graduates. We have master’s degrees,” he said. “We have all of these amazing men and women working for us who have grown us from zero sales. The people who work for IBC down south will do anything and everything for Islamorada.”

Councilman David Webb was the lone vote against the permit. He said the council must re-evaluate how to manage the impact of commercial areas abutting residential communities. Webb said the applicant filled all conditional squares to get the liquor license, but he took issue with a deficient noise ordinance that doesn’t address differences between “Holiday Isle Tiki Bar on the edge of the ocean and an operation right across the street from a residential neighborhood.”

“I think there’s room for us to reach out to the petitioner and find some more cooperation and some more commitments,” he said. “I speak in opposition tonight under conditions presented, but encourage us to move forward to find compromise.”

Webb recommended there should be a certain time that ends the loud music to give neighborhood residents peace and quiet. In response, Village Planning Director Dan Gulizio said the applicant is willing to come up with acceptable hours of operation for live music. 

“I’m confident we can finalize that one condition if it’s in the council’s purview to give us that discretion,” Gulizio said. 

The distillery would operate from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

In his remarks to council, Trentine said he tried to put in seven units of housing on the building’s first floor. That wasn’t allowed, however. With seven housing units on the second floor, Trentine said he’s purchasing the building to give his employees a place to live. As to the loud music concerns, Trentine reiterated that there won’t be a DJ at 11 o’clock at night. 

“That’s not what we do,” he said. 

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.