Buffalo Trace Distillery expansion projects have been a hot topic in Frankfort, with many people excited about the bourbon giant's growth and what it means for the local economy. Property owners along Peaks Mill Road, however, say the distillery is going too far with plans to build warehouses there.
Landowners shared with The State Journal an array of concerns regarding Buffalo Trace’s intentions for the land surrounding Peaks Mill Road and Elkhorn Creek.
A distillery spokeswoman wouldn't confirm or deny the Peaks Mill plans, and community leaders say they haven't been notified of any construction plans. But neighboring property owners say the distillery is looking to rezone the land from Agricultural to Industrial with the hopes of building additional warehouses to age its bourbon.
One property owner, Shawn Thomas, said in recent emails with The State Journal that neighboring landowners have held a handful of meetings to compile a list of reasons for opposing the project. Thomas also submitted the list in hopes others in the community would better understand the owners' concerns.
According to a “Fact Sheet” compiled by neighbors, Buffalo Trace has signed contracts with owners of three properties totaling 360 acres in the area of 780 Peaks Mill Road. Real estate purchase contracts between private parties are not public record, and The State Journal could not independently confirm the existence of the contracts.
Before Buffalo Trace could build warehouses, the land would have to be rezoned, neighbors say. The Frankfort-Franklin County Planning Commission would review the rezoning application and make a recommendation to the Franklin County Fiscal Court, which would have the final say.
The neighbors' fact sheet details specific reasons for preventing the expansion under section headers including Water Quality, History, Roads, School, Ecology and more.
An Alternative section was also listed near the bottom of the document, which states: “Franklin County already has land zoned industrial available for development. The existing industrial park currently houses many office and light manufacturing uses that could be relocated so industrial uses could be sited in appropriately zoned areas.”
The neighbors say the proposal to build warehouses in Peaks Mill “does not adhere to the goals and policies” of the community's current Comprehensive Plan.
“Any contemplation of changing the zoning should be addressed in the upcoming rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan so the community’s goals can be taken into consideration,” the fact sheet states.
Thomas said the area is one of the most beautiful places in the county, adding that anyone who has taken a drive down Peaks Mill Road would agree that it is the quintessential depiction of rural America with hand-laid rock walls, hay fields, rolling hillsides and tree-lined Elkhorn Creek.
“Converting this piece of land from Agricultural to Industrial use lies in the hands of some of our community leaders. I am hopeful that our leaders will consider the impacts that this decision would have on this area,” he said. “I grew up across the road from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Blanton Acres, and my parents still live there. I am sure that everyone in the community has driven by the distillery and seen the unsightly black fungus that grows on the buildings in the area. This fungus also attaches itself to the houses, cars, trees, landscaping, etc., in the surrounding areas as well. I can only imagine how the beauty of the Peaks Mill area will forever be changed if these warehouses are built.”
Thomas asked leaders to consider the potential impact to both air and water quality in the surrounding wetlands and Elkhorn Creek, and to the plant and tree populations in the area.
“I am not opposed to the distillery expanding, and I do realize this would bring in additional revenue to our city. I think this is great," he said. "But please do not let this expansion happen in an inappropriate part of the county. Buffalo Trace can find an area in the county that would be much less impacted by this expansion and is more suited for industrial use.”
Having built the first house on the southwest side of U.S. 127 North (Owenton Road) in 1998, Joe Sanderson said it was the best view in Frankfort at the time because his backyard was a forest of cedars and hardwoods. He added he could frequently see deer and wild turkeys playing in the backyard because of the protective forest just a few feet away.
“You could also see the Capitol dome, which was pretty cool. The view of the Capitol dome is still there, but there are little to no deer and no turkey since Buffalo Trace built several massive warehouses in that forest. I sold the house when I got wind Buffalo Trace was buying up property behind me. I knew several people would join me in the fight to keep the area pristine, but the train had left the station,” Sanderson said.
Because of his love for the area, Sanderson bought a home directly across U.S. 127 North. The farmland view is one of the last in the county, he said, and it made his home worth more than money.
Since his move, Sanderson said, he has invested a couple hundred thousand dollars' worth of improvement because of the view.
“I never dreamed Buffalo Trace would follow me across the road to force me away from this area again,” he said.
Sanderson said he knew the large trucks and trailers would not have a problem navigating U.S. 127 to access buildings on the southwest side of the highway, but he never thought construction would be attempted on Peaks Mill Road because it is a small, two-lane road that “you have to slow down when you meet a car coming in the opposite direction.”
“These huge trucks will have to drive past an elementary school with children playing outside near the road. Or, maybe the teachers will have to keep them inside,” he said.
“I have no issue with Buffalo Trace. A lot of good people are employed by them, and they pay taxes that help our local governments. However, between the sugar mold that covers my house and vehicles to the invasion of the beautiful landscapes and doing nothing more for the community than providing jobs and paying taxes, I have had about enough.”
Sanderson said he's "glad this is an election year so we can see who votes for big-industry politicians or for the people of this community that look out for the people that vote for them.”
Community leaders contacted by The State Journal said they did not have any knowledge or information about the supposed Peaks Mill expansion.
Franklin County Planning and Zoning Director Robert Hewitt said nothing has been filed for rezoning the property.
“As such, I do not know exactly which properties they are considering or the acreage,” he said.
Planning Commission Chair Sherron Jackson, who is out of town for the holidays, said in a phone interview that he hadn't "been informed of anything.”
Kentucky Capital Development Corp. President and CEO Terri Bradshaw said Buffalo Trace has not made any announcements about expansions on Peaks Mill Road to the best of her knowledge but that the community should support one of its anchor employers.
“Buffalo Trace provides more than 600 jobs, 300,000 annual visitors and a world renowned product to Frankfort. They partner with multiple local charities and community organizations, raising thousands of dollars and offering numerous volunteers,” she said. “Their success is vital to Frankfort and Franklin County, and we are so very fortunate to have them here. I hope we will support them in every effort as they continue to grow.”
Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells echoed Bradshaw’s support for the company during a phone interview with The Station Journal, adding he was not privy to any information detailing expansions as of yet. Buffalo Trace Distillery has been a help to the community by way of tourism, he said, adding that he is happy to have the distillery as part of the Franklin County community.
Buffalo Trace spokeswoman Amy Preske told The State Journal the company is exploring potential new sites in Kentucky to help meet the demands of the bourbon industry’s “exciting growth” and economic development.
“Buffalo Trace Distillery will continue its tradition of engagement with its neighbors and potential new neighbors as well as continuing to be a strong community partner, once our plans start to firm up,” she said.