Members of the Lehigh Township Planning Commission reviewed a zoning hearing board appeal petition at their first meeting of the year on Jan. 8, prompting them to define what is considered a winery within the township, and what is not.
The commission reviewed the petition of Kevin and Shannon Birosik, who were seeking modifications of conditions imposed by the township’s zoning hearing board. The conditions pertained to a proposed winery at 567 Blue Mountain Drive, which was approved by special exception as a farm occupation.
Shannon Birosik was in attendance to explain modifications she was seeking, including changes to retail hours, being allowed to hold small, indoor events at the property, which the zoning hearing board previously opposed, as well as permission to operate on holidays.
Another modification Birosik sought, a waiver granting her relief from having to construct a 40 by 60-square-foot building to produce wine, ushered in confusion and a potential problem for Birosik’s proposed winery.
Birosik told planners that she has to generate sales from the retail portion of the winery before she constructs the production building, due to lack of funds. Additionally, she has planted vines at the property, but said it takes multiple years before grapes are suitable to make wine.
Per the township’s zoning ordinance, a winery is defined as “a building or property where wine is produced,” and Birosik’s delay in producing wine on-site raised concerns about whether it could be classified as a winery by definition in the township’s zoning ordinance.
“Without production, you don’t really have a winery to start with,” Planning Commission Chairman David Shulman said. “It’s basically just a retail shop to sell what you’re growing elsewhere.”
This also raised the concern of Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Cindy Miller, as well as Katherine Mack, chairwoman of the zoning hearing board, who was also in attendance.
A solution was found when Birosik agreed to open to the proposed winery for operation after wine is produced on-site, which would be possible without the additional building if she uses juices from her current winery in Berks County.
The planning commission then agreed to relay all of the modifications, with their suggested changes, to the zoning hearing board.
In other business, the planning commission recommended conditional preliminary/final approval for the Northwoods land development plan, which will go to the board of supervisors to consider for approval.
The next Lehigh Township Planning Commission meeting will take place on Monday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m.