Sep 04, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Owera Vineyards, which has been embroiled in recent weeks in a dispute with neighbors and the town over excessive light and sound pollution that many claim negatively affects the neighbors’ quality of life, is now looking for new production and events sales managers.
Top Owera staffers Ben Reilly, who started as the director of operations but was changed to production manager two months ago, and Kristi Fondario, who started as director of sales but was changed to event sales employee, both resigned their positions in the days between Aug. 19 and 27.
Reilly had no comment about the reason for his resignation from Owera. “I would like to say that moving my family here three years ago was one of the best decisions we ever made and I’d like to thank the community for their support,” he said.
Fondario could not be reached for comment.
A call to Owera by the Cazenovia Republican to confirm the status of Reilly and Fondario was put on hold and not picked back up; a second call was picked up and immediately disconnected. After going to the winery tasting room, the Republican was told by Heidi Wimmer, an Owera tasting room employee, that Reilly and Fondario both left to “pursue other career paths” and the winery is now looking to fill their former positions.
As of press time, both employees’ profiles and contact information remained on the Owera website and their voicemail boxes were still in operation.
Whether the resignations had anything to do with the winery’s current issues with neighbors and the town of Cazenovia over noise complaints, were simply changes in career paths or were the result of differing managerial opinions is unclear.
A review of Owera’s value as a wedding location posted on weddingwire.com would suggest that the resignations may be related to an alleged disrespectful management style by the owners. The review, which is undated and does not give the writer’s name, states:
“Although the setting and facility are exquisite, the management was a nightmare to work with. Their ‘in your face, take it or leave it’ attitude has no place in the hospitality business. They undermined any negotiations made by their events coordinator [Kristi Fondario], who is a gem, creating drama and unneeded stress. The abusive treatment of those that work for and with them is inexcusable. The vendors they had available at the time are the best, but it doesn’t make up for the management’s bulldozer style.”
Owera owner Nancy Muserlian did not respond to a request for comment.
The loss of two of its top employees — Reilly, former director of operations, was also the public face of Owera for two years as the construction permits and planning board hearings took place — comes in the middle of a dispute between the winery, its neighbors and the town of Cazenovia concerning loud music late into the night and excessively bright lights coming from the winery. Neighbors have been complaining to the town — and calling the police — since the winery opened in June to try to get the volume of the wedding music to be lowered and to have it stop at a more reasonable hour; they recently have started circulating a petition to present to the town board.
The town board held a lengthy discussion of the Owera issue with Town Codes Enforcement Officer Roger Cook and Town Planning Board Chair Michael Palmer on Aug. 12, during which it was stated that under the winery’s original site plan approval from the planning board all noise on the property is supposed to stop by 10 p.m. Owera’s weddings on Friday and Saturday nights end at 11 p.m. Cook and Palmer also said the noise level of the weddings was extremely loud — so loud that neighbors complained of shaking windows and walls.
The board’s discussion centered on the question of whether or not Owera is the winery it was allowed to be or has become an event center that was never intended — or approved — by the town planning board.
“We thought we were approving a winery … and what we ended up with was a banquet hall,” Palmer told the board.
The town board agreed at that meeting that Owera must abide by its original approval agreement and have all its weddings stop by 10 p.m. If not, they agreed that Cook would issue the winery a citation for violating the agreement and, if the winery persists, the issue will end up in court.
Last weekend, Aug. 23 and 24, Owera’s weddings continued to be held at the same volume and for the same duration — until 11 p.m. — as they have in the past, according to neighbors.
The town did not issue any citations for noise and after-hour violations last weekend, Town Supervisor Ralph Monforte said.
Town Councilor Pat Race, who was a vocal proponent of making the winery abide by the planning board permits at the Aug. 12 town board meeting, said he was not sure that the noise issue would be changed immediately. The winery has contractual obligations until 11 p.m. currently, and the town needs to follow the process for situations like this and handle the issue “diplomatically and with everybody’s best interests in mind.”
“It’s one of those things that has to be done properly,” Race said. “But if I have anything to say about it the situation will be alleviated … because it’s just not right.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.