Chelsea City Council Paves Way for New Downtown Distillery

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By Melinda Baird,

Ugly Dog Distillery has cleared an important hurdle toward its goal of relocating and expanding from Dexter Township to downtown Chelsea.  Chelsea City Council on September 5 accepted the first reading of a zoning ordinance text amendment, which, if approved, would provide for a new special use category in the Central Business District for “the manufacturing of beverages not associated with a bar, lounge or restaurant.”

Currently, the C-5 District allows for the manufacturing of beverages only when accessory to a bar, lounge or restaurant, but the proposal by Ugly Dog is to allow the manufacturing of beverages in combination with a tasting room, retail sales and special events.  The handcrafted vodka and gin distillery plans to occupy the former UAW Hall on South Main Street with its craft distillery—plus a visitor’s center and tasting room.

“We’ll provide a small, almost historical, view of the production of spirits in America,” Ugly Dog CEO David Salmon told council members.

Chelsea’s planning commission in August recommended approval of Ugly Dog’s proposed text amendment following a public hearing during which plenty of public support–and no public opposition–was expressed.  The commission, as advised by legal counsel, also added language to the amendment stating the amount of floor space allowed to be used by manufacturing activities “be determined on a permit by permit basis depending on the size and nature of the building.”

Council members Melissa Johnson and Jane Pacheco during the council meeting raised a concern, albeit not specific to Ugly Dog, that this language may open the door for potential misuse; that is, the percentage of floor space used for manufacturing versus retail in potential future businesses may end up glaringly lopsided. Councilwoman and planning commission representative Cheri Albertson emphasized certain safeguards within the zoning ordinance to prevent this hypothetical.

Salmon reported that Ugly Dog business has boomed since rebranding the product in May.  He hopes to attract more than 10,000 people to Chelsea annually and employ at least 20 people at the new location.  If all goes smoothly, Ugly Dog Distillery will open in Chelsea within the first quarter of 2018.

“I’m very pleased to be part of the Chelsea community, and hope to become an even bigger part of the community,” Salmon said.

Council voted 5-1 to accept the first reading, with Johnson voting against.  Council generally does not approve adoption of an ordinance at its first reading, and a second reading is scheduled September 18.

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Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

2 thoughts on “Chelsea City Council Paves Way for New Downtown Distillery

  • September 14, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    I am very excited for UglyDogDistillery and all the people involved, especially Dewey Winkle, co-founder of the facility. From the very beginning of Ugly Dog’s birth Dewey has put in many many hours of blood, sweat and tears not to speak of hours upon hours of dedication to make it a success to make it appealing to these new owners. He continues to put himself out there, taking pride in all he does.
    I am his mother and his father and I are very proud of him. You’ve done well my son. I love you.

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