Dec 09, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Owera Vineyards will not be approved for the liquor license it wants, nor will it be given any more caterer’s permits for next year’s wedding events it plans to hold unless and until the numerous complaints and concerns of the winery’s neighbors over loud music and deteriorating quality of life are addressed and solved.
This was the decision of the New York State Liquor Authority last week when it considered Owera’s liquor license application.
“This is where the community is up in arms,” said SLA Chair Dennis Rosen when Owera’s application came up before the board during its Dec. 2 meeting. “I would deny based on the opposition.”
“Yeah, they’ve got way too many scheduled events; it’s a beautiful place, though,” said SLA Commissioner Jeanique Green.
According to SLA records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, Owera applied for a liquor license as a “catering establishment” this past July. Such a license would allow Owera to “provide liquor, wine and beer for consumption for an assemblage for a particular function (i.e. retirement dinner, wedding reception, private party) to which the general public is not admitted,” according to SLA information.
In October, Owera submitted an amended application due not only to personnel changes at the winery, but also because the original application as a “bar/tavern” was deemed to be inaccurate by the SLA for the license for which Owera applied. “A farm winery has the ability to file for an on-premises license but according to the law the premises would need to operate as a restaurant, not as a tavern in order to serve liquor,” the SLA wrote in an Oct. 8 letter to Owera.
Owera submitted amended applications on Oct. 21, one of which included a dinner menu and designated the winery as a “restaurant,” and the second that designated the winery as a “catering establishment.”
Calls and emails to the SLA seeking clarification on which designation was the final one were not returned.
Cazenovia Town Codes Enforcement Officer Roger Cook, however, said Owera is not currently approved or zoned to do business as a restaurant.
“I would probably deny them or cite them for operating such. I don’t think that is something that is appropriate under our zoning and we would look to stop that unless somebody higher up tells us we can’t,” Cook said. “Our question is, why is a winery looking to sell alcohol, and is alcohol something [the state Department of] Ag[riculture] and Markets looks at as part of their ag process? I tend to think not.”
Town Planning Board Chair Michael Palmer, whose board is currently reviewing Owera’s latest site plan review to build a new event building to replace the current event tent on its property, also expressed concern over Owera’s possible future business plans.
“We’re trying to collect as much information as we can from all parties,” Palmer said. “The type of license they want will help us determine their intentions.”
He said if Owera wants a liquor license to better serve their guests at a catered function that is one thing, but if they are looking to create a full bar or restaurant, “that’s a different thing. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it shows their intentions for the future.”
In addition to speaking to members of the SLA legal department about exactly what type of liquor license Owera is seeking, Palmer said he also sent a letter to the SLA commissioners informing them that Owera currently is going through a site plan review process regarding the proposed new event building, that the neighbors are opposing the winery’s current ability to hold events and that the municipality is working to address the issues.
In addition to Palmer’s letter, the SLA also received about two dozen letters from Owera’s neighbors on East Lake Road describing the negative impact on their quality of life due to the weddings and loud music from the winery and asking that the SLA reject Owera’s liquor license application. Many of the neighbors also included copies of stories about the Owera issue from the Cazenovia Republican.
The numerous letters of opposition caused SAL Deputy Commissioner Kerri J. O’Brien to send a memorandum to the SLA commissioners on Nov. 18 and specifically ask them, “Does the licensing of this catering establishment interfere with the quality of life of its surrounding neighbors? Several letters of opposition have been received from concerned residents.”
At the SLA’s Dec. 2 hearing, Rosen said Owera’s application listed it as a “catering establishment.” Rosen pointed out that there was no letter in the file from the local municipality (the town board) offering any facts or opinions on the winery and its request, but said the newspaper articles submitted by the neighbors suggested that the town board “seemed critical of the place.” Rosen also referenced the letter submitted by Palmer, and said it does not take a position but “just says everything’s under review. It doesn’t really take a position.”
Rosen said that, based on the winery’s current status with issues pending before the town planning board, “I think I would disapprove it at this time instead of just putting it over forever.” Green agreed.
“So we’re going to deny [the liquor license] based on the fact that we’ve got a substantial number of complaints from community residents with respect to how events have been conducted in the short time that this winery has been in existence and been conducting, hosting social events. We have a letter from the town of Cazenovia [Palmer’s letter] saying that all of these matters are under review and they’re very cognizant of the community complaints. So on that basis, at least at this time, I don’t think and the commission apparently rules that we should be approving this application until these concerns are cleared up. So it’s disapproved,” Rosen said.
After the commissioners disapproved the liquor permit, one of the authority staffers mentioned that Owera had applied for caterer’s permits for about 15 events scheduled in 2014, and wondered what the commission wanted to do about them. According to the SLA website, a caterer’s permit is applied for by a company that does not have a liquor license so they can hire a licensed caterer to provide the food and alcohol at the event. Owera has been catering most of its events through the Lincklaen House.
The commissioners decided that any caterer’s permits already approved should remain authorized, but felt no further caterer’s permits should be issued to Owera.
“And again the reason is that we want this to be worked out with the town and the residents. That will give them additional motivation to try to do that — come up with a way of operating that doesn’t cause the issues that people are complaining to us about,” Rosen said.
The winery’s neighbors, who have been fighting for months against Owera’s loud events as well as against their liquor license, see the SLA’s decision as a major victory for the neighborhood.
“I am pleased with the decision by the State Liquor Authority as they clearly understand that the neighborhood needs to be considered before a license is approved,” said Robert Cowan. “The fact that there will be no more temporary licenses approved until this issue is resolved pleases us tremendously. Those who may want to book their wedding at this ‘winery’ need to understand that it is currently a risky decision.”
Neighbor Deb Shephard Moynihan agreed. “What the liquor authority voted on at this point was the issue with the neighbors,” she said. “Local and state authorities are starting to see this situation for what it really is. We’re challenging Owera and they’re not going to be able to operate without additional expectations.”
“Next will be the town,” Moynihan added. She said the neighbors, who have been consulting with an attorney on the Owera situation, plan to ask the town board to not only make Owera “abide by town law,” but to also not allow Owera to hold any weddings or special events on their property until the entire issue is resolved.
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.