PLANT CITY Many neighbors who live near Keel and Curley Winery say they don’t want to close the 11-year-old business.
They say the winery was once a relatively quiet place that fit right in with the mostly rural area north of Interstate 4.
But, they claim, the winery has evolved into a noisy establishment that sells beer and wine by the glass and attracts so many customers that there are traffic jams.
“People don’t move to the country to have a saloon in their neighborhood,” said Shirley Morgan, a retiree who moved to the area 30 years ago with her husband Ernest.
The opponents say they will be out in force Tuesday when Hillsborough County commissioners consider a rezoning request that would, among other issues, specifically allow on-site beer brewing and sales.
Winery officials have said they have sought – and obtained – government approval every step of the way as they added on-site consumption and a microbrewery.
County land-use hearing officer Steve Luce sided with the winery in a 16-page report that recommends that county commissioners approve the rezoning request.
It’s certain to produce debate on both sides; thousands of people have signed a petition supporting the rezoning at the winery at 5210 Thonotosassa Road.
The winery sought the rezoning after county code inspectors cited the business for beer sales. Inspectors say sales were not allowed under terms of the special conditions of the 2005 zoning at the 27-acre winery.
Ray Young, who lives in the area, said many neighbors want the winery to scale back operations to the days when it offered no more than wine sales and tastings.
“We’ve accepted the winery all these years but it’s become something much more,” said Young, who is helping lead the opposition. “The property is not zoned for a microbrewery. A microbrewery should be in an industrial area, not in a rural area.”
Young, an appointed member of Hillsborough’s City-County Planning Commission, emphasized that he’s speaking as a private citizen, not as a representative of the agency.
Young said opponents have more than 500 signatures on a petition opposing the rezoning.
Young said the county has made a number of missteps in giving the winery a license for on-site alcohol consumption and a building permit for the brewery that opened a year ago.
In his report, Luce concluded that the winery owners acted in good faith and always obtained permission from proper government agencies.
Luce recommends that the commissioners approve the zoning with some compromises suggested by the winery that would limit noise and traffic, including:
• Ending live entertainment on the outdoor deck at 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. Sundays. Live music may not include full drum sets, bass guitars and amplified drums
• No more than four outdoor festivals a year with a maximum of two days of duration, except for the annual three-day Blueberry Festival
• Offsite parking allowed only Friday, Saturday and Sunday
• Brewing no more than 250,000 gallons of beer per year
Joe Keel, president and chief executive officer of the winery, said he couldn’t comment prior to Tuesday’s hearing.
In an interview earlier this year, Keel said he didn’t think the business overstepped its bounds.
“In all honesty, this whole interpretation that we’re not allowed to sell beer is their opinion,” he said of county zoning officials. “We’ve never done anything against the county law or state law.”