Worries about the proximity of a proposed wine distribution center near Walnut Springs Elementary led Dripping Springs Planning and Zoning officials to recommend denial of the project by a 6-1 vote.
However, the project stirred conversation among officials on laws concerning prohibiting alcohol sales near campuses.
P&Z officials denied the project, located in the 300 block of Sportsplex Drive, as it fell within 300-feet of Walnut Springs. Currently, a variance is required for the sale of alcohol within 300 feet of a campus.
Facility owners, however, argued the project calls for a distribution center for other wineries and sellers in Texas. No alcohol would be sold on site in any form and alcohol would never be seen on-site.
“The 300-foot designation is not only in our ordinance but the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC),” said P&Z chair Mim James. “Again, I’m in support of your business model, but it’s just too close to the school.”
Larry Epp, owner of Truly Growth Wine Cellars, said he wanted to move his business to Dripping Springs because it’s the gateway to the Hill Country and a goldmine for the distribution of Texas wines.
“As far as wines go, there are a group of wineries participating to ship their wines throughout the Hill Country to help educate people on Texas wines,” Epp said.
Epp said he chose the location because it best suited the needs of his business at an affordable price. Epp said semi-trucks and big rigs would never be seen on the road or parking lot as the business is still small in size.
Bob Wilson, the owner of the Dripping Springs Chocolate Co. and the owner of the property, said he fully supported the business moving to his property. The company would only have a few members working at a time, which leaves open parking spaces for customers of the other businesses, Wilson said.
City Attorney Laura Mueller said a limitation in the TABC laws might not account for businesses operating strictly on internet sales.
The alcohol beverage code was last amended in 2001, which includes the 300-foot setback rule. However, it does not make a distinction between different types of sales, whether online or storefront.
“The internet was barely around (in 2001),” Wilson said. “We couldn’t even conceive things like Amazon then. The idea of selling alcohol where someone doesn’t have to show up wasn’t a thought. It’s a different world now.”
Commissioner John McIntosh, who cast the lone dissenting vote recommending to deny the project, compared winery sales to the distribution of shoes. He also cited a previous attempt for a sports bar to be within close proximity of Walnut Springs Elementary, which was subject to criticism in the city.
“If they were distribution shoes, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation,” McIntosh said. “Would we be having the same concerns? The denial of the sports bar, I agreed with that. But this does not have those issues with on-site consumption.”
Epp said he met with Dripping Springs ISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing about his business; Gearing did not oppose the center, as it did not include the distribution or sale of alcohol on-site.
Without written testimony from Gearing, commissioners said they were unable to take his opinion into account.
Wilson said denying the business could push Epp to take his investment and sales tax revenue to another city, like Fredericksburg.
“I own a chocolate store and we have kids running around, so trust me, if I didn’t believe this was safe, I wouldn’t support it…,” Wilson said. “As a business owner and the building owner, I think you’re making a big mistake.”