A Dawson City resident is hoping to operate a distillery and tasting room in downtown Dawson. First, however, a zoning bylaw amendment will need to pass second and third reading at city council.
Alex Hakonson said he initially contacted the city’s planning department to ask about operating a “home industry” from an outbuilding on his Dawson City property. However, he was told businesses in that category aren’t allowed on properties zoned R1 (single detached and duplex residential), as his is.
“The addition of home industries to R1 is undesirable from a planning standpoint due to the risks associated with these types of uses, such as safety, fire, odour, etc.” reads a staff report presented to Dawson council on Sept. 6. “Due to their size and primary focus on product manufacturing and distribution, distilleries and breweries were traditionally viewed as exclusively industrial activities.”
However, the report goes on to say that craft brewing has grown in recent years. It says facilitating small-scale businesses like this in downtown Dawson would align with the city’s Official Community Plan. Specifically, it would promote economic growth by supporting new or existing sectors, attracting new business and balancing various economic interests.
“There is no industrially-zoned space in the historic townsite, that causes even the smallest companies to look for a location outside of the historic townsite where they are outside of the reach of the city’s services,” reads the report. “This is disheartening in light of the possibility of local small-scale distilleries developing into restaurants or bars that enrich the city’s culture.”
In the report, city staff recommended amending the zoning bylaw to define and include microbrewery/craft distillery as a permitted use under C1 (core commercial) zoning. There are C1-zoned buildings throughout the downtown.
Dawson City Mayor Bill Kendrick spoke to the News on Sept. 14, a week after the amendment passed its first reading.
“Planning came to us with this suggested change to a zoning bylaw, and so far, we’re proceeding with it,” said Kendrick. “And (if it passes second and third reading) it enables the activity … it’s good to see innovative ideas that can diversify our economy. All the new attractions and new, innovative businesses that attract more and different people to our town can be a good thing.”
Hakonson said he started considering a distillery when he realized Yukon Brewing is really the only one in the territory right now. Klondike River Distillery, across the river in Dawson, opened in 2008 but shut down in recent years. Dawson residents Brian Deenik and Nicola Robinson bought the distillery and are in the process of re-opening in 2024.
“It seemed like an open market here, and it seemed like a fun project,” Hakonson told the News. “Doing all the research into it, it started to actually sound more and more viable.”
If adopted, the amended definition of microbrewery/craft distillery will follow regulations adopted in communities in British Columbia, including Salmon Arm.
The definition limits operations in the microbrewery/craft distillery category to those producing a maximum of 50,000 litres per year, with equipment and manufacturing space taking up no more than 275 square metres. There is to be limited outdoor storage of products, and the site “shall not create a nuisance.”
“We’re in the downtown core where all the bars are,” said Hakonson. “I don’t see how we’d be any more of a nuisance than a bar. In fact, we’d be less because we’ll only be open business hours. I don’t want to run a bar.”
Hakonson stressed that the project is preliminary right now. He doesn’t have a fully formed business plan at the moment. He’s waiting for a public hearing on the amendment to take place during the Oct. 4 city council meeting.
A spokesperson with the planning and development department of the City of Dawson told the News that if no significant concerns are raised during the hearing, the amendment may move to second and third reading.
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