PLANT CITY — A winery known for its quintessential Florida creations — blueberry, strawberry, key lime and mango wines — is worried it might go out of business if a critical rezoning doesn't go through.
Keel and Curley Winery opened in 2005 and added its own craft beer to the selections last fall. But some rural neighbors are complaining that the business is surpassing what its zoning allows — hosting events, selling beer and having patrons park on land zoned for agriculture.
"The winery itself we weren't opposed to," said neighbor William Woodall, who lives a mile away and filed a complaint with the county. "They're not zoned for what they're doing. It's really not a good area for them."
Woodall and neighbor Lonnie Oswald cited noise and traffic problems, and insufficient lighting and sidewalks. Oswald, who lives about a mile away, said he could hear bands playing on weekend nights while watching TV at home.
"This is a very rural neighborhood," Oswald said. "They're not zoned for the bar. They're not zoned for special events such as weddings, but they've been carrying on right along. They've kind of done it under the radar."
The county staff is evaluating a rezoning proposal that would allow the winery to continue to serve and sell both beer and wine and to host weddings and fundraisers. County planners will make a recommendation to a zoning master about a week before the June 23 hearing.
"Right now, the planned development is approved for a winery and accessory retail establishment associated with that winery," executive planner Brian Grady said. "They're wanting to add, in addition to a winery, a brewery, and to expand the services in the retail building to allow for the sale of beer and to allow weddings on site and other entertainment."
Owner Joe Keel said that the county already approved the brewery and that the winery has hosted events without complaint for years.
"We never knew that we were doing anything that wasn't in their interpretation of the zoning we were granted," Keel said. "They get a complaint from a neighbor and all of a sudden we weren't in compliance and shouldn't be doing this or that. "
What frustrates Keel is that the county signed off on its brewery application in 2013 before it was sent to the state.
"You have to have the county sign saying it's zoned properly to do what you're applying for with the state," Keel said. "As you can see, there's a lot of inconsistencies with the county government. They approved these things, but now they're saying we're not zoned for it properly."
Grady said that although he wasn't part of the brewery application process, typically the county checks to make sure a property has the correct zoning before signing off on applications. Yet the Keel and Curley Winery passed without issues.
More than 4,500 people have signed a petition for the county to approve and adopt the rezoning, Keel said. The petition circled among patrons during the sixth annual Tampa Bay Blueberry Festival at the winery last weekend.
The winery has continued to operate while the county goes over the rezoning. Keel said the operation has spent more than $20,000 on legal fees and could spend as much as $50,000 on various costs throughout the process. That's if the rezoning goes through and the winery doesn't have to make any other changes.
"If it didn't pass, it would put us out of business," Keel said.
It's not the winery the neighbors have a problem with, Oswald said. There's a difference, he said, between customers sampling wine and people sticking around to drink beer and hear music.
"It's just a dangerous situation," he said. "We're not trying to shut down the winery or the wine-tasting facility or the store. We just do not want the brewery. We do not want a bar in this area."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.