Dec 09, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The Cazenovia Town Planning Board has requested an official, written opinion from the town codes enforcement officer on whether Owera Vineyards is violating town zoning laws by holding so many events at its East Lake Road location. The action was taken after — and apparently in response to — public comments from the winery’s neighbors at the board’s Dec. 5 meeting charging that Owera was operating its numerous events in violation of town zoning laws and the planning board therefore should not approve the winery’s proposed events building.
The CEO’s report is due before Dec. 19, the day on which the board will hold a special meeting to continue its site plan review process of Owera’s building request.
“It’s a victory. It’s about the law,” said East Lake Road resident and Owera neighbor Deb Shephard Moynihan in response to the board’s action. Moynihan challenged the planning board to hold Owera accountable to town laws and to deny the winery’s request for a new events building.
Last week’s meeting was the third public meeting in three months concerning the planning board’s site plan review of Owera’s proposed new events building to replace the temporary events tent in which it held its numerous events this past summer.
Winery owner Peter Muserlian, along with his landscape architect, architect, sound engineering expert and Owera attorney appeared before the town planning board on Oct. 3 to provide the board with project information and to receive feedback before submitting their formal application for the project. In November, their proposal was for a building about one-third bigger than the current tent, with an additional wing to be used for corporate retreats, pharmaceutical dinners and similar events. The building would be constructed of state-of-the-art sound-proofing materials that would reduce the noise levels of music heard at the closest property line to 60 decibels.
At the Dec. 5 meeting, Owera’s landscape architect, Joanne Gagliano, reviewed the proposed project to date and said the building has been reduced in size; specifically, the extra wing added to the building in November was removed from the plans.
Planning board members asked multiple questions seeking specific details concerning the building’s construction and how effective it is expected to be in containing sound from event music — which is the main complaint of the winery’s neighbors.
After about 45 minutes of discussion, it was stipulated by both the board and Owera’s attorney Antonio E. Caruso that Owera would agree to a specific decibel level limit at the property boundary lines, and the planning board would require tests to monitor noise levels at the boundaries. What that decibel level would be was not agreed to at the meeting.
Town Attorney John Langey announced at the meeting that he had had “extensive communications” with state Department of Agriculture and Markets attorneys asking for clarification on Owera’s status as a farm winery and whether or not the charges by its neighbors that it has been operating in violation of DAM regulations are valid or correct. Langey said the DAM did declare that Owera is a “start-up farm winery” and as such it has certain goals and achievements it must meet under DAM laws.
“The guidance says they can have events, but it doesn’t say how many,” Langey said.
He said the DAM refused to get involved in the issues and disagreements currently going on between Owera, its neighbors and the town. He said the department wants the planning board to decide the specific details of Owera’s allowed operations by the town and only if there is a “specific dispute” that is appealed to the DAM will it get involved to the point of issuing an opinion on the matter.
“That’s where they left it; they kicked it back to us,” Langey said.
Palmer said this response from the DAM means that it is up to the board to “negotiate with the applicant to create a plan that will respect the neighbors and proceed with the business plan.” He offered a draft list of conditions that Owera must meet in order for the board to consider approving the site plan review.
Included in the proposed conditions were issues concerning lighting, noise, frequency and duration of events, board review and approval of future additions to the winery and periodic board monitoring of Owera’s adherence to DAM rules and regulations.
Palmer’s proposals concerning the duration and frequency of events drew the biggest reaction from both the meeting audience and Owera’s attorney. He proposed that Owera’s events schedule, which was divided into six-month summer and winter seasons, allow for no more than one event per day, with 25 total weekend events allowed in both the summer and winter seasons and 20 total weekday events allowed in both seasons. All weekday events, especially those occurring on school nights, must end by 6 p.m., and weekend (Friday and Saturday) events must end by 10 p.m. When an event is over, attendees must leave the premises and cannot move to another building on Owera’s property or stand in the parking lot and “continue the party.”
Caruso objected to the limit of 25 total weekend events per season, and said Owera already has 32 events booked for summer 2014, “and we’d like the ability to do more than 32.” He also objected to the 10 p.m. end time on Friday nights, saying that an 11 p.m. end time “is what works” considering that Friday events cannot begin until 5 p.m. He said he would need to discuss those proposed conditions with Muserlian before he could give the board an answer.
East Lake Road neighbors who attended the meeting were audibly upset by the suggested allowance of 50 weekend events per year, and, during the public comment period of the meeting, spoke against it. They also continued expressing their concerns about the noise levels.
Neighbors also vehemently spoke out in their belief that Owera was operating in violation of town zoning laws and that both the town board and the town planning board were missing that fact.
“Enforce the zoning laws and force them to go elsewhere,” said Bryan Keeler.
Moynihan, citing and quoting from both town law and DAM rules for farm wineries, told the board that all of Owera’s weddings and events have violated local laws, something municipal officials have been “forgetting.” She said that while DAM rules allow farm wineries to hold events, a municipality is not required to allow them to do so, and town laws hold priority over the DAM rules.
“We have zoning laws for a reason,” she said. “Continue to reject this building on the basis of simply following our own laws.”
Moynihan also said that East Lake Road residents would submit a request to the town board that it stop Owera from holding all weddings and events.
One resident spoke out in favor of Owera at the Dec. 5 meeting. John Henneberg, owner of Henneberg Tavern, said Owera owners Peter and Nancy Muserlian have made efforts to appease the neighbors and “trying their best to make it work.” He said Owera brings visitors and business to Cazenovia.
When asked for a comment at the end of the meeting, winery owner Peter Muserlian said, “We’re working closely with the town and I’m sure we’ll ultimately resolve this issue.”
The planning board will hold a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, in the town offices to continue its consideration of Owera’s site plan review.
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.