RIVER FALLS — Regulations for small-scale alcohol production could be added to the city zoning ordinance under a motion given a thumbs-up by the Plan Commission this week.

Commissioners on Jan. 5 unanimously recommended approval of the draft ordinance, which will go before City Council at a future date. It was not on the agenda for the Jan. 12 meeting posted to the city website Friday.

The intent of the ordinance is not to affect the three breweries currently operating in the city, but rather to provide “clear direction” for future development and ensure compatibility with surrounding businesses and residences, according to a staff report.

“We think some modest regulations will promote their use,” said Larry Kirch with Prologue Planning Group, a consultant to the city. He told Plan Commission members the hope is for existing breweries to feel more confident that they are operating on the level.

The three-page document defines the various types and sizes of alcohol production operations, as well as spells out development standards and the zoning districts where they will be allowed.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

There are seven operations defined in the ordinance:

  • Brewery
  • Brewpub
  • Distillery
  • Micro distillery
  • Nano brewery
  • Tap room/tasting room
  • Winery

A table lists the zones where the operations are permitted. The smallest of them — micro distilleries and nano breweries — are allowed in Light Industrial and Traditional Neighborhood District zones only as an add-on to another business.

[JARGON WATCH: Traditional Neighborhood Districts are intended for mixed use, with residences alongside commercial operations.]

Table A in a draft zoning ordinance establishes the permitted districts for malt beverage, wine and intoxicating liquor establishments and facilities in River Falls. Table via Plan Commission staff report
Table A in a draft zoning ordinance establishes the permitted districts for malt beverage, wine and intoxicating liquor establishments and facilities in River Falls. Table via Plan Commission staff report

City staff began looking into the regulations in response to a growing trend in small-scale alcohol production, which is viewed by some in planning and economic development communities as a way to enhance downtown and neighborhood revitalization, according to a report to the commission.

There are more than 300 small and independent breweries, wineries and distilleries contributing $2 billion-plus to the state economy, according to trade organization the Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition.

The proposed ordinance does not cover licensing or permitting of such business. It also does not cover unlicensed, hobby brewing in private residences.

The draft was reviewed by the city attorney, clerk and water/wastewater superintendent.