Sep 13, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The owners of Owera Vineyards this week declared themselves heartsick over their neighbors’ complaints about bright lights and loud music from the winery and said they will resolve these issues for the 2014 season. Until then, they gave their word they would address the lighting issue with new fixtures and close the vinyl flaps on the event tent at 10 p.m. for the rest of the 2013 wedding season in order to reduce the noise level of the wedding music.
Their statement came during 90 minutes of discussion on the issue at the Sept. 8 town board meeting during which the winery’s East Lake Road neighbors unloaded a litany of complaints, accusations and demands for action to the board, and board members responded that they have been actively working on the problem for weeks. The town attorney also revealed at the meeting that the first major step has been taken in that Owera has been issued two town code violations for bright lights and loud music, and the town code enforcement officer said if there is another incident the winery will be issued a court summons.
Neighbors were unimpressed and avowedly “skeptical” at both the board’s statements and the winery owners’ promises, and made clear they will continue fighting for a more immediate and satisfactory resolution to what they declare as a loss of quality of life in their neighborhood.
“They have absolutely been the neighbor from hell” and have a “total disregard” for town rules and regulations, said neighbor Jorn Clement.
The 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 has been ongoing since the winery opened in June. Under the site plan for the winery approved by the town planning board, all external events at Owera are required to either end or be held inside a building after 10 p.m. specifically to address the issue of noise bothering its neighbors. Owera has been allowing its weddings and special events to go until 11 p.m., and, according to neighbors, sometimes until 1 a.m., in its non-permanent events tent, which has vinyl flaps that can be rolled up and down. The winery maintains that the tent is a structure and therefore their weddings inside the tent can go as long as they want.
Neighbors have been complaining to the town — and calling the police — every weekend weddings have been held to get the volume of the music to be lowered and to have it stop at a more reasonable hour. The town board discussed the issue at length during its Aug. 12 regular meeting, and last week the neighbors submitted a petition signed by 35 homeowners — the majority on East Lake Road — to the board calling for the situation to be addressed.
During the Sept. 8 meeting, Clement, who submitted a written statement to the board and was the first neighbor to speak at the meeting, accused Owera owners Peter and Nancy Muserlian of “lying” to state troopers and county sheriff’s deputies who have been called to the neighborhood for excessive noise by telling them that the winery either has a permit for the music to go past 10 p.m., does not need a permit to go past 10 p.m. or they “have an agreement” with Town Code Enforcement Officer Roger Cook to allow them to go past 10 pm. Other East Lake Road neighbors repeated these claims.
Cook told the Cazenovia Republican there never was and is no “agreement” between him and Owera about allowing the event music to go past 10 p.m. His position with Owera, he said, is that they know what their hours of operation are and what can happen if they are not followed.
The state police public information office did not respond to calls seeking clarification or comment.
Neither of the Muserlians, who both spoke during the town board meeting, responded to Clement’s accusations.
Peter Muserlian, who made a statement to the board, said to Clements, “I understand your concern and we have the same concerns … I feel badly about this … we’re looking to be compliant for next year.” Muserlian said that he plans to build a permanent structure next year to replace the tent, although it will “look like a tent.” He said that when they went through the planning board process to create the vineyard nobody at the time realized there would be this noise issue. “This never got brought up at the planning board level,” he said.
Town planning board records show, however, that the board discussed the specific issue of special event noise and music and its effect on neighbors at its Jan. 6, Feb. 3 and March 3 meetings and public hearings. During those meetings, both neighbors and planning board members expressed concerns about the possibility of excessive noise levels and the winery becoming a “concert venue.” The board also received five letters in February and March 2011 solely expressing concern over the possibility of excessive noise created by winery weddings and special events.
As for the lighting issue, Muserlian said they had ordered new light fixtures that will create dimmer lighting, and they will install timers on the lights so they will shut off 30 minutes after the end of every event — which would be 11:30 p.m., he said — and on Monday and Tuesday nights when the winery is closed, there will be no lights on at all.
“It is a problem and we don’t want to cause a problem,” he said. “We’re very quiet people and we’re doing everything we can.”
Multiple neighbors then stood up and specified their numerous complaints to the board.
Deb Shephard Moynihan, who lives on Owera Point Drive, spoke about the noise and lights, and said her daughter comes to her crying at 11 p.m. on weekend nights because she can’t sleep due to the loud music. She also said a family with two special needs children recently moved out their East Lake Road house because their children got so upset due to the noise they could not sleep.
“There is no intention [by the board] to try to work on this. It is the job of the board to enforce the regulations in place … You took an oath when you took this job,” Moynhian said. “We cannot sleep, and what we’re hearing from the board is nothing. Enforce the regulations. I have to abide by them. I don’t understand why you are not holding a business to the same standard.”
Neighbor Bryan Wendel said that when he has called state troopers to complain about the noise the tent flaps have been up, which allows the sound to travel farther. Peter Muserlian responded and said the tent flaps always go down at 10 p.m., to which multiple members of the audience shouted out, “That’s not true.”
Muserlian shot back, “It is true.” He added, “All we’re trying to do is get through the season to fix this next year.”
Neighbor Bruce Race said when he called the sheriff the music was turned off, and after the sheriff left the neighborhood the music was turned back on at a higher volume. “It is out of control,” he said, adding that that night the music went on until 1 a.m.
Councilor Bill Zupan told the Muserlians that the planning board stipulation was that noise must end at 10 p.m. “You gotta lower the noise. That’s all there is to it,” Zupan said. He asked Muserlian if he would not at least meet the neighbors halfway and lower the music volume between 10 and 11 p.m.
“I will do that. I will make the best efforts on all this stuff,” Muserlian said.
Nancy Muserlian also spoke and said the winery has been an asset to the town and if they were forced to close their 22 employees would lose their jobs and the vacated winery would be an “eyesore” for the town and the neighbors. She then promised the neighbors that she would personally be present and oversee the conclusions of every remaining wedding at Owera this year — about seven or so — starting at 9 p.m. to ensure the music was not as obtrusive as it has been.
“I will be at every single wedding we have left and stand in front of the [tent] flaps at 10 p.m.” to make sure they are closed, despite any brides’ objections, she said. “I promise you that. You have my word.”
Moynihan was unimpressed by the Muserlians’ comments and outraged at Zupan’s comment about Owera meeting the neighbors halfway, demanding that the town board act immediately and enforce the 10 p.m. planning board agreement and not compromise and allow the winery to exceed that by simply turning the music down.
Councilor Pat Race, who said he agreed that the planning board stipulations for the winery have been “circumvented and ignored” by the Muserlians, told the neighbors they must have patience while the town board addresses the issue through the proper legal process. He explained that the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has the final say in certain winery regulations — because it is located in an agricultural district — if the town cannot resolve the situation itself. They have the power, if they so decide, to allow the winery to operate at all hours on any day if they feel it is relevant and beneficial to the winery’s agricultural operations of making and selling wine.
“Let us work through the process,” Race said, adding that if the process is ignored or circumvented Ag and Markets could step in and make the situation much worse for the neighbors — and on a permanent basis — since they have the final say.
Town Attorney John Langey agreed and said there is limit to the jurisdiction of the town planning board in such agricultural business situations. “There is due process here; there are procedures.”
Langey also said that on Friday, Sept. 5, the winery was cited by the town code enforcement officer with notices of violation for the excessive light and noise. “From here on out this is an issue of compliance and enforcement,” he said.
Cook said that with the citations issued, the winery in effect has been issued a warning by the town to either correct its behavior or come into compliance with the planning board regulations. He said that if he receives “substantiated” complaints about the winery continuing to violate the zoning codes — such as by excessive noise being played past 10 p.m. — he will issue Owera a town court summons.
“It’s kind of a waiting game,” Cook said. “It’s their choice to either comply with the rules or not.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.