Zoning board hears further arguments in Owera codes enforcement appeal, says decision will come in August

— After listening to an hour of legal arguments and public comments concerning Owera Vineyards’ appeal of code enforcement decisions regarding winery operations, the town Zoning Board of Appeals Monday closed its public hearing on the issue and declared it would make a decision in the case by its August meeting.

The July 28 public hearing, attended by a full room of spectators, offered not only substantive arguments and discussions on the issue, but also, at times, saw mutterings and accusations from members of the audience, including both winery neighbors and Owera owner Nancy Muserlian. There was also some pointed questions and hard talk from ZBA members — particularly Gene Smith, who at one point accused Owera’s attorney Thomas Fucillo was “talking out of both sides of [his] face.”

Owera’s appeal, filed on June 6, was the result of town Codes Enforcement Officer Roger Cook’s April determination that a June 10 Owera event would violate the winery’s permitted operations because all outdoor events are required to end by 5 p.m., but the event in the event tent was scheduled to end at 9:30 p.m. Cook determined that the tented event center is “considered to be outside” and therefore must end by 5 p.m.

Owera cancelled, then rescheduled, the event for a different day and time, but its appeal claimed that Cook’s decision had caused — and would continue to cause — the winery financial hardship. The appeal claimed that the events tent is an indoor, not an outdoor, structure as the town claims, and also that the winery’s hours of operation as approved under its original site plan are not enforceable by the town and were more “expected” than “mandatory.”

Town attorney John Langey, who is representing Cook, having recused himself as the ZBA attorney in this matter, filed a motion to dismiss Owera’s appeal on the grounds that it was past the law’s 60-day appeal time. His position is that Owera should have appealed an identical decision by Cook last September, rather than the same decision in June.

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