It was an issue that packed the Hillsborough County Commission chambers in downtown Tampa this summer. Keel and Curley Winery fought for a modification to its zoning to allow its new brewery, Two Henry’s Brewing Company, to operate. In the end, the commission voted unanimously for the rezone, ending in a victory for the winery nestled among rural neighborhoods off Thonotosassa Road.
But, it came at a cost. The winery has claimed that some opposing neighbors slandered their business name.
Now, is has filed suit against those neighbors.
“We’re only suing the people (who) lied,” owner Joe Keel said. “There were people that opposed what we did. But, they didn’t make up lies. Everybody has the right to oppose something.”
Suits against William Woodall and Ray Young were filed earlier this month. Keel said he also planned to file suits against Donald Roth and Lonnie Oswald. He said there were plans to also file against two others. All parties live near the winery.
Keel said those residents made remarks about his business to others and on official county record that were untrue.
“We basically are holding people accountable for misleading or lying about our zoning efforts to get more supporters,” Keel said. “We suffered from their statements, either verbally or written.”
Keel said the process ended up costing the business $300,000. He said he has had to cut all of his employees’ salaries and his own. He also said he had to lay off three employees.
Some remarks had started long before the rezoning hearings, according to Keel. In March and April, Keel had heard some rumors about the winery and his family’s own moral character. They consulted with an attorney but decided against taking action.
“It was all about their cause,” Keel said. “To this day, I don’t understand why they were so vindictive and malicious.”
Joanna MaGrath said a process server has been to her house a couple of times this month. MaGrath helped with research for the opposition. She had met Oswald and others through church. They are also nearby neighbors.
“It’s been a total miscommunication since the get-go,” MaGrath said. “No one wishes any ill will on Keel and Curley. We pray for them. We put them on our prayer list.”
MaGrath said the opposition had no problem with the winery. It was the brewery that posed challenges.
“I want to keep the rural community the rural community,” MaGrath said.
The winery changed its policies to allow only acoustic music, monitor noise levels and stop shows an hour earlier than usual.
Keel has asked for a jury trial for each suit.