Council, Gingerwolf Distillery spar over contract

MIDDLETOWN – The Middletown Town Council met Tuesday night to hone a public improvements agreement with the Gingerwolf Distillery, leading to a decision to close the sidewalk in front of the establishment.

The decision came after several council members and the town attorney said Gingerwolf representatives tried to amend the contract. However, as of Wednesday afternoon, the sidewalk had not yet been closed.

Town attorney David Griffin said the original contract involved Gingerwolf meeting the town halfway. However, in the distillery’s proposed contract sent over by Josh Cohen, Gingerwolf owner and council’s contact for the deal, Cohen removed several key steps that the business would have undertaken.

“Our position was we were trying to assist in improving the town, making Main Street a better place,” Griffin said. “We recognize some of this is old and in dire need of repair … The way that usually works is, if the town is going to step up and put him at the front of the line, the business also needs to step in. He (Josh) agreed with these positions, but it’s kind of become a one-way street of, ‘No, you just do it all for me.'”

Neither Cohen nor his partner Brett Wolfington attended the meeting. Wolfington said via phone he was not aware of the meeting or he would have attended. Cohen said the two had a prior engagement and could not make the meeting.

Both Wolfington and Cohen declined to comment on the contractual dispute.

In Griffin’s recommendation to council on whether or not to accept the changes, he pointed out several items of concern that Gingerwolf representatives added.

The sidewalk closure was decided because a gas meter used by the building juts out onto it. In the town’s draft of the contract, Gingerwolf would have to move that away from the sidewalk. In Gingerwolf’s proposed changes, it remains as is. Cohen said the meter’s current position is suitable under Virginia Code.

However, Griffin raised concerns.

“Somebody who’s been a patron at their business in the nighttime is very likely to smack into it,” Griffin said. “Our goal is to protect the public and he did agree with that, but he does not want to do that.”

On top of that, Griffin said the business asked the town to hand over ownership of the public sidewalk in front of the building. Gingerwolf would then drill tables into the pavement and fence off the area for extra seating.

“We can’t give exclusive use to a public right of way,” Griffin said. “You just can’t. It’s a public right of way. You can’t just give it to him. That defeats the whole purpose of a sidewalk.”

Additionally, as part of an earlier verbal agreement, Gingerwolf representatives agreed to add a step outside the building to curb runoff water, for which the town would repave the sidewalk and build a drain.

However, because the step would rule out the building’s Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, the new contract opts out of the responsibility from the distillery’s side, but not the town’s.

Lastly, the new contract would have made the town liable for any damage sustained with business following events or gatherings promoted by the town.

Ultimately, Griffin and the council opted to reject the changes requested by Gingerwolf and offered them a take-it-or-leave-it stance on the original.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com.

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