CARMEL, N.Y. - Plans to convert the old Guidepost property on Seminary Hill in Carmel (now the Paladin Center) into a distillery took a small step forward last week when the applicant—the Alexandrion Group—laid out its plans for the property during a public hearing before the Planning Board.
Representatives from the Romanian-based Alexandrion, along with a team of international experts from a variety of fields, explained their plans for the property and fielded questions from neighboring residents.
Stelious Savva, CEO of Alexandrion Holdings, said the company plans to invest approximately $40 million in the Seminary Hill property and $100 million total nationwide as it expands its global business. He said the Carmel distillery will employ 60 workers over the next five years, 100 employees throughout New York State, and 400 nationwide. He said all the employees will be Americans and the Carmel distillery will look to hire locally.
“We are here to work together with the community for something that will be very good for the town. We are looking forward to a great collaboration,” Savva said. “The intention here is to build a U.S. distillery to produce U.S. products and we want a U.S. workforce to support the operation.”
Dr. Nawaf Salameh, CEO for Alexandrion Group, said the company is present in 50 countries around the world.
“We chose the U.S. [for this project] for one reason: we believe in the U.S.,” he said. “We need to use our distillery in the U.S. for export. At least 50 percent or even more of the capacity of the distillery will be for export, not just the U.S. market. We will hire a total of 100 people from this area; qualified people. We are talking about top management, marketing, sales, engineering and export people. We will be the biggest distillery in New York; we believe in New York.”
Randy Tharp, vice president and director of business development for Chicago- based Epstein Architecture, which is overseeing the property’s development, said Alexandrion could have opted to raze the buildings on the property, but chose instead to remodel and adapt them to the new business.
“We could have started from scratch, but we found the facility to have a lot of features and capabilities that we can utilize so we can modify it in a number of ways,” he said. “We have maintained all the existing access roads—the primary access to the facility will be from Route 6 for commercial purposes.”
Tharp said there will be 60 employees at the facility for operations, which include both a visitors center and the operation of the distillery. They will be spread across three shifts. He said the facility will operate for distillation purposes five days a week, 24 hours a day. The off-shifts will only have about five employees or less to monitor equipment and processes.
“On a daily basis there will be no more than six to eight trucks a day bringing in grains to the site or taking off the finished product,” he said. “All of that will be directed off of Route 6.”
Tharp said there will be no storage of the spirits at the facility other than for those taking tours of the distillery. He said aging of whiskey products will be done offsite.
“The only storage will be about 20 casks—mostly for the visitor experience. The only other storage might be some bottle storage before it gets shipped out, but nothing long-term,” Tharp said. “We do have some alcohol storage tanks that are outside, and we have consulted with the fire department and have agreed to meet the requirements that they have for all the fire-protection issues and will supplement it with fire equipment there that they don’t have.
“There will be leak-detection in all of the tanks as well as a [concrete] barrier so if there were any leaks they would be contained and would not spill outside [the barrier],” he added.
Tharp said that architecturally speaking, the company wants to maintain the historic integrity of the property.
“For the visitors center, we wanted to do something that was reflective of the history of the site,” he said. “So, we did some research into the appearance of the old seminary school. It takes into account the local history; local context—local materials. There will be some stone incorporated, some wood incorporated into the new façade.”
Many of the questions and concerns from the audience, most of whom live near the Guideposts property, centered on issues such as water supply, wastewater, noise, smells and traffic.
Henry Boyd, owner of Boyd Artesian Well Company in Carmel, said the company plans to drill approximately five wells on the property.
“The amount of water they are looking for is not a tremendous amount of water. That area has no [working] wells whatsoever,” he said, explaining there is no fear of draining neighboring wells dry. “I really feel there is no problem for getting enough water for what they need. It’s not a whole lot of water.”
Some in the audience expressed concern that during a drought, the distillery’s water consumption could become a burden on the community. Boyd said that wouldn’t be an issue.
“Regarding droughts—when a well is 200 or 300 feet or deeper, droughts don’t really affect it,” he explained. “It’s the first 100 feet [that can be a problem]. If it was affected down to 200 feet, we would all have to leave town because there would be no water. Yes, there are conservation periods that go on. But the average family uses about 500 gallons of water per day. But when you start watering a lawn, you can use thousands of gallons of water. That’s why you have water restrictions when you have a drought going on. [Alexandrion] is recycling and not drawing a lot of water out of the ground.”
Seamus Crickley, engineer with Ireland-based WEW Engineering, said preliminary studies revealed the facility would need about 135,000 gallons of water daily for the process.
“It isn’t an issue, there is plenty of water,” he said.
Crickley said the facility will use the latest green technology and will treat its wastewater, 75 percent of which would be recycled and reused.
“[Treated wastewater] normally goes to a river or somewhere else after treatment,” Crickley said. “[The distillery’s recycling] is built into the preliminary conceptual design. Once the water is recycled, it will put a lower demand on any other source of raw water. Sustainability will be applied. The town supply would only be used at the lower end of the required scale. Recycling technology is here. [The facility] is one that I would be personally proud to be associated with.”
One of the main concerns voiced by audience members focused on something known as “whiskey moss” or “whiskey mold,” an organism that thrives when ethanol, a byproduct of the distillation process, is off-gassed into the atmosphere.
David Timmons, a scientist with expertise in the chemical and sensory properties of whiskeys, liqueurs, tequilas and vodkas, said that won’t be a concern because very little whiskey will be stored at the property.
“There is some concern about ‘whiskey moss’ or the mold that grows around whiskey warehouses. That is associated with warehouses that hold 30,000 to 50,000 barrels and when you have homes near these warehouses. Then there can be these molds,” Timmons said. “Because there is no aging on the site, this is not going to be an issue at all. The ethanol emissions come from the ‘angel share’ (the amount of alcohol which evaporates from the casks during maturation). They are only going to have about 20 barrels for display, so the emissions from this site are less than a gas station. It only grows when you have a tremendous amount of ethanol emissions over a very long period of time. I expect zero concern for generations to come. Everything here is very high-end and first class environmentally for this facility.”
Alan Anderson, group distiller, said the facility will produce about 1,000 casks weekly with operators and engineers “who will hopefully be employed locally and trained to hopefully become world-class distillers.”
“We will be making a range of whiskeys, single malt, bourbon and grain whiskeys similar to scotch and gin and vodka,” he said. “We hope to make about 20,000 liters of alcohol per day. It’s a considerable amount of spirits.”
Anderson said this will all be done using green technology.
“A huge focus of the design has been energy conservation,” he said. “Normally a distillery takes about 7 kilowatts of power to make 1 liter of alcohol. We designed this facility to do half that. It is very green technology that we’ve applied. The whiskey will be first class; very high quality.”
Neighbors also expressed concerns about any odors that might be associated with the distillery, but Anderson said they need not worry.
“The smells generated by a distillery are actually very pleasant,” he said. “They use raw and organic materials that you might use in your kitchen – wheat, flour, rye, barley, water and yeast. So, it’s like baking bread; that’s the kind of smell you get.”
Nina Walters, a Seminary Hill Road resident, noted that the plan that is currently before the Planning Board is a five-year plan and worried what might be coming after that.
“In 2020, there will be some expansion with increased production,” she said. “From a wastewater perspective and town infrastructure perspective, do we have the capacity? Who will pay for the infrastructure needs?”
Craig Paeprer, vice chair of the planning board, explained that any further changes or development proposed beyond the current site plan would have to go through the approval process again, including a public hearing.
“If there is additional growth at another time, they would have to come in front of the board again to discuss it,” Paeprer said. “Water use, waste, traffic— any changes to what we approve [now] would have to come back in front of the board.”
Christine Loibl, who said she was speaking on behalf of her mother who lives near the property, pointed out there is an alcohol/substance abuse rehabilitation facility just down the road from the proposed project and questioned the wisdom of building a distillery so close to it.
“It’s kind of ironic— you have Arms Acres, a rehab center, up the hill, and a distillery down the hill,” she said. “These people have day passes. You see them walking into town. Did somebody not think of this?”
But it was pointed out that the area also has plenty of bars, restaurants and liquor stores—public places Arms Acres residents would likely choose over a private closed-off distillery.
Bill Trabulsy, who lives on Lindy Drive just off Seminary Hill Road, said he worried about the truck traffic and that it would be greater than what Alexandrion is promising.
“It’s proposed that it’s all coming off Route 6. What is the penalty if it’s not?” he asked. “I propose we put gates on the Seminary Hill side of the entrance. I am not against this, but I am going to do everything I can for my community to protect it and respect it and to ask these guys to deliver on their promise or pay the price if you don’t.”
However, Mike Carnazza, the town’s building inspector, said that wouldn’t be feasible because the road needs to stay open for firetrucks and other emergency vehicles.
Mahopac resident Bob Buckley said the community should embrace the project, saying it will be a boon to the local economy.
“I think it’s a great thing for this town and it’s in a great location,” he said. “I can’t imagine this distillery making any more noise than the Paladin Center and those helicopters coming in from Camp Smith and when the police were doing emergency training there. We need life in this town; we are an aging town and our student population is going down by 25 percent. Maybe this will soften the blow. Start with a good company like this that will create jobs.”
Harold Leplar of Hinkley Holdings, which owns the property, said he has always tried to be a respectful neighbor and believes the distillery will continue that.
“The traffic is going to be six to eight trucks. When it was Guidepost, we probably had 100 trucks and 600 employees,” he said. “They’ve been totally responsible in bringing in some quality people to address the conservation of water and recycling. We have asked them to address the issues of wastewater, so they don’t put a burden on the community now or in the future. They’ve been responsible in every request; they’ve never said no. We have said no to other companies that wanted to locate here because we felt it wasn’t appropriate or defensible. We feel this is.”