The Kennesaw Development Authority recently agreed to provide a $15,000 subsidy to Mark Allen, who plans to open the Lazy Guy Distillery at 2950 Moon Station Road on the north side of town. The money, which is not a huge amount, is designated for property improvements and is not to be released until the distillery gets all of its required licenses and permits.
But Allen’s plans hit a snag when he was told by Cobb Fire Marshal Jay Westbrook that because the distillery produces a “flammable liquid” as part of the process and stores the alcohol on site, he cannot open unless he installs a fire sprinkler system.
Allen complains that will cost him an extra $30,000 over the $200,000 he’s already invested, and has requested that the Kennesaw Development Authority pay for at least a third of the cost of the sprinklers. He’s expected to address that board when it next meets Aug. 21.
The county’s insistence that he install the sprinklers is “a deal breaker,” he complains.
Speaking of deals, Allen played the cities of Kennesaw and Marietta against one another in the lead up to his decision to locate in Kennesaw. One of the key factors — perhaps the key factor — was Kennesaw’s willingness to let him build without the sprinklers.
Did Kennesaw officials (elected and otherwise) know that the county code insists on sprinklers in such settings, but decide to play “mum” in hopes of winning the deal, and then working things out later on? Possibly.
Did Mayor Mark Mathews think he might be able to prevail on his close political ally Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, to “call off the fire marshal dogs” and let the distillery open without the sprinklers? Possibly — although to Lee’s credit there’s no sign that he plans to do any such thing.
Did Allen get “Lazy” and fail to do his due diligence, taking city officials at their word that no sprinkler system would be needed, rather than investigating for himself what the law requires? Definitely.
The episode also calls into question why the city of Kennesaw was so willing to potentially endanger public safety in order to attract a desirable new business. It also makes one wonder why Allen is willing to put dollar signs ahead of the safety of his potential customers.
Meanwhile, Marshal Westbrook is to be commended for insisting the city and the distiller adhere to the fire code.
City officials probably assume Allen has too much invested in his planned Kennesaw location to move at this point, and they’re probably right. If their mistake was an honest one, which might in fact have been the case, then they might feel obligated to help pay for the sprinklers. On the other hand, honest mistake or not, is it the role of Kennesaw (and other governments) to foot the bill for sprinkler systems, which most would contend are a routine part of the construction process? As we have just been reminded, there are plenty of builders and developers who would love to not have to pay the extra expense of equipping their buildings with sprinklers.
If the KDA and by extension, the City Council, want to foot the bill for the sprinklers, they are well within their rights to do so. But whether those looking over their shoulders — the taxpayers and voters of Kennesaw — think so might well be another question.