RIVER FALLS — Zoning standards for small-scale alcohol production could be cemented in municipal code under an ordinance being considered by City Council. It would make River Falls one of the few cities of its size in the state with clear rules for the siting of brewpubs, micro distilleries and nano breweries.

Council members heard the first reading of the draft ordinance Jan. 26. It is intended to direct future development of the increasingly popular business ventures as well as ensure compatibility with surrounding businesses and residences, according to a staff report.

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The ordinance lists the various types of alcohol production operations, spells out development standards and identifies zoning districts where they would be allowed within the city.

The ordinance does not supersede statewide regulations or cover unlicensed, hobby brewing in private residences. The three breweries currently operating in the city would continue as before.

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The Plan Commission recommended approval of the ordinance earlier in January.

The city began exploring the regulations in response to a growing trend in small-scale alcohol production. Staff determined few Wisconsin cities outside of Milwaukee and Madison have zoning regulations specific to brewing, distilling and winemaking.

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.

A second reading and vote on the ordinance are scheduled for the Feb. 9 council meeting.

Read the full draft ordinance below:

In other news…

  • Council members heard the first reading of an ordinance amending the city’s shoreland protection regulations, originally enacted in 2003. Changes to state law in 2013 and 2015 mean the city’s regulations are no longer in compliance with Wisconsin shoreland and shoreland-wetland programs, and thus difficult to enforce. The amendments would reduce the number of nonconforming properties and increase the amount of developable land, while protecting slopes and waterways, according to a presentation to the council. The ordinance will be up for a vote at the Feb. 9 council meeting. Mayor Dan Toland encouraged council members to research the proposed ordinance over the next two weeks.
  • City Council approved a partial reimbursement of the 2020 room tax collected from lodging establishments to help soften the blow of pandemic-related challenges for the hospitality industry. The city levies a 6% tax per room, per night when booked, with 70% of the revenue going to the Chamber of Commerce and 30% to the city’s Business Development and Tourism Fund. A one-time grant of $25,000 will be divided among eligible lodging establishments within city limits proportionate to what they paid in room taxes. The city will contribute $15,000 for the grant, in part from unused funds meant for events that were cancelled due to the pandemic, with the Chamber putting up the remaining $10,000.
  • Staff was given the OK to donate leftover ambulance and emergency equipment now that the city contracts for EMS from Allina Health. The gear, such as medical bags, oxygen cylinders, splints and bandages, will be made available to regional not-for-profit agencies and educational institutions. Items valued at $500 and up will instead be auctioned or sold through sealed bid.