This site development plan shows the footprint of the planned River Dog Brewery location on May River Road.

Bluffton has developed a fast reputation for craft breweries and spirits innovation thanks to big connecting swings from the likes of Lot 9, Southern Barrel and Burnt Church Distillery.

Equally worthy of praise is River Dog Brewing, who has quietly built a budding empire in Okatie. Well, they are quiet no more.

River Dog presented a preliminary development blueprint to the Bluffton Planning Commission on Aug. 24 for what they hope to be a 50,000-square-foot facility on Jennifer Court, at the corner of Buck Island and May River roads.

The building footprint would literally wrap around the Parker’s property, with a 20,000-square-foot production brewery space and 30,000 square feet reserved for a food hall and retail space, tasting room, business offices, and a beer garden and pavilion event space.

The idea is to have a number of smaller restaurant spaces (a coffee and breakfast space, barbecue and taco stand were mentioned as examples) with a taproom in the center of the building.  The food hall layout is reminiscent of the current buildout happening in Hilton Head Island’s Port Royal Plaza, with bakery chain Paris Baguette being the first of a number of planned eateries opened in the food hall space.

It is an ambitious plan that has already caused an undercurrent of panic from neighborhood residents weary of the potential for parking overflow beyond the allotted 135 parking spaces, and added traffic impact to an already congested intersection.

“We have noise ordinance concerns, just a lot of concerns. Outside seating, operating hours, the buffer between properties, the size of a privacy fence, the trash can location – they are all concerns,” said Norma Moore of 15 Red Cedar St. “I don’t want to stop it. I just want to make sure that the concerns of those that live literally within walking distance are addressed.”

Witmer Jones Keffer is representing River Dog in the town approval process with the hope to be built and fully occupied and operational by 2024. WJK officials addressed resident concerns at the meeting and promised to work with residents to further address concerns as the development plan progresses through the approval process.

The brewery first opened in a small warehouse in Bluffton, soon after moving to a larger Okatie facility. River Dog co-owner Dawna Gray took 100% ownership of the brewery in 2014.

River Dog has expanded its barrel capacity, expanded to offer to-go cans, bottles and growlers. Gray first made a proposal for the Jennifer Court location to Town Council in 2018, but the new proposal is two and a half times bigger than the earlier proposal. 

The Planning Commission approved the preliminary development plan unanimously at their Aug. 24 meeting, contingent on the developer addressing all community concerns around privacy and parking. There are numerous approval steps ahead before any plan would be passed on to Town Council for a final vote.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.