Food & Drink

Gin, bourbon made right in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood? Exciting plan. Just one problem...

The VanLandingham Estate, with its 1920s house and large property in the heart of Plaza-Midwood, is still for sale. But not for a distillery.
The VanLandingham Estate, with its 1920s house and large property in the heart of Plaza-Midwood, is still for sale. But not for a distillery. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte builder Jay Holman has had a dream for years: He wants to open a Charlotte distillery, making gin, grappa and eventually bourbon, and name it for his great-uncle, J. Richard Hallman, who was a South Carolina moonshiner.

He thought he’d found the perfect spot: The VanLandingham Estate, a 4.5-acre historic property currently for sale on The Plaza.

When he’d searched a city website for available properties zoned for alcohol manufacturing, “it was the first one that popped up,” he says.

But, there’s a problem.

The website, www.charlotte.opencounter.com, is designed to help small business owners figure out where they can open and what permits they’ll need. But even though it’s active, it’s still in the launch phase and some of the property zonings are incorrect. This was one of the wrong ones.

In Charlotte Mecklenburg, breweries fall under the zoning designation I-1 and distilleries are I-2. Both are industrial and not allowed in residential areas.

The VanLandingham Estate is not only in a residential area, it also has Historic Landmarks and conditional zoning status, which limits what can be done on the property.

Holman had been so excited, he visited the VanLandingham Estate last week to meet with owner Billy Maddalon.

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Billy Maddalon has been trying to find a buyer with a good use for the VanLandingham Estate. Diedra Laird dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Maddalon, who also owns the Morehead Inn, operates an inn and conference center at VanLandingham. But the aging building and its large grounds are too expensive to maintain. Ever since a failed rezoning attempt (for townhomes and a swimclub) in 2015, he’s been trying to find a solution that would protect the old house and the grounds. So he was willing to listen to Holman’s idea.

“The thought of a distillery there does confuse me a little bit,” he says. “I didn’t say no, I just thought it was something that wouldn’t be approved.”

However, since Holman filed for a business permit to look at the property, the news quickly got picked up by a Charlotte online publication and went public – to Maddalon’s surprise, he says.

Nan Peterson with the city’s land development office confirmed Thursday that they’ve run into trouble with Open Counter because the city’s zoning designations are so complex. They’re going through the incorrect listings to catch problems before making the website fully active.

The good news is that the site will make it easier to figure out where you can open a small business. Before, Peterson says, potential small-business owners would locate a spot, sign a lease and then find out they need a rezoning to open. The new site is designed to keep that from happening.

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Jay Holman (left), shown greeting county commissioner Pat Cotham, is active in local community groups. Robert Lahser rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Even before the discrepancy turned up, Holman admitted that opening a distillery on a 1920s estate in Plaza-Midwood was a long shot. But it’s still his dream to have a distillery, he says, and he’ll keep looking for a viable spot.

A native of Columbia, he spent summers on his grandmother’s farm in Leesville, S.C., where his great-uncle Richard ran a still to make moonshine on a nearby creek. Holman would join him, learning about mashes and how to distill.

He says, “I can still hear my grandmother calling out the window not to go down to the creek.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

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