Nov 11, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Practically the entire East Lake Road neighborhood by Owera Vineyards attended a town planning board public hearing last week concerning Owera’s proposal to build an events building. The neighbors showed up to not only oppose the winery’s proposed new building but also to demand an audit of the winery’s books to determine whether or not it has been holding its numerous weddings and events in violation of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets law.
More than 50 town residents crammed into the Nov. 7 public hearing — so many that there were not enough chairs, and people were standing along the sides of the meeting room and out in the Gothic Cottage entrance hallway just to listen. The meeting room in the town office, which is actually two rooms comprised of the old formal parlors in the historic home, was so acoustically unfriendly that many attendees said after the meeting that they could barely hear — or not hear — what was actually said during the meeting, especially by Owera’s representatives, whose backs were to the audience.
Eight members of the public spoke at the meeting: Seven opposed the winery’s proposal and asked the board to reject it, and one supported the winery and encouraged the board to approve it. Two other attendees submitted letters of comment to the board for inclusion in the record, but did not speak publicly.
Amid the now-common accusations by local residents of Owera being a bad neighbor, of violating town zoning laws and of being untruthful and untrustworthy in all its operations and actions, there were also some new statements made, including one neighbor who spoke in support of the winery.
East Lake Road resident Bob Cowan said Owera was “a banquet facility in violation of town zoning requirements,” and requested that the town of Cazenovia seek a “full audit” of Owera by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to identify exactly what part of the winery falls under the DAM law. He also requested that until the current zoning issues with Owera are resolved, the town make the winery cease and desist all event operations.
“Please act in the best interests of Cazenovia: Close the banquet facility and give us back our neighborhood,” Cowan said.
East Lake Road resident Deb Moynihan said Owera’s proposed events building had “nothing to do with operating a vineyard,” and that there is no way Owera generates more income on its wine than it does on its weddings and other events, as required by state law. She offered her own calculated figures of Owera’s wine production and sales versus the approximate cost of a typical winery wedding, and declared, “You cannot do the math and support what Ag and Markets requires.”
Berta Keeler, also an East Lake Road resident, asked the planning board members why they would even consider approving Owera’s building proposal, which is even larger than the current events tent, “with their history of non-compliance [to town zoning laws]?”
Owera was issued a town violation in September for allowing a winery event to occur past 10 p.m., which is the curfew time for Owera’s events under the planning board site plan approval for the winery.
Neighbors Bryan Wendel and Bruce Race also asked why the planning board would “reward” Owera and its owners, Peter and Nancy Muserlian, with another building permit despite their continued violations of town zoning laws.
“They ignore the rules,” Wendel said. “And now they want to double-down with a more permanent structure.”
“Are we to take the word of the owners who have repeatedly shown their insincerity?” Race asked. “Let Owera Vineyards first prove compliance and intention to comply with the laws that govern our municipality and then ask the town leaders for another permit.”
One East Lake Road neighbor, Maggie Borio, did speak in favor of Owera Vineyards and its proposed new events building. She said that as a direct neighbor she has never heard any noise coming from the winery’s production facility or from its heating and air conditioning systems, as some neighbors claimed. As for the event noise, “If the tent’s not working, wouldn’t a building be better?” she asked.
Borio said Owera is a business that supports the Cazenovia community and has brought a lot of visitors into local shops and restaurants. Owera’s position on the state beverage trail is also “a big deal,” she said.
Owera owner Peter Muserlian, who was present during the public hearing, did not respond to his neighbors’ comments or speak at all during the public comment period. He offered “no comment” when asked by the Cazenovia Republican for a statement.
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.