Jun 13, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
After a quiet spring, the controversy between Owera Vineyards and the town of Cazenovia over the winery’s allowed operating procedures has reared up again — this time in the form of an appeal to the town zoning board of appeals over a recent decision by the town codes enforcement officer denying Owera’s plans for a June 10 event. The winery is repeating its previous claim that its three-season events tent is an indoor, not an outdoor, structure as the town claims, and is offering a new argument that its hours of operation as approved under its original site plan approval are not enforceable by the town.
The issue arose after Owera Vineyards scheduled a Jewish Community Center annual meeting and awards ceremony to be held from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on June 10 in its events tent. Under Owera’s original 2012 site plan approval, all outdoor events — and the town considers the event tent to be an outdoor structure because it is not permanent — must end by 5 p.m.
Town Codes Enforcement Officer Roger Cook determined that the event would violate the winery’s permitted operations because it would not end by 5 p.m. and because the operation of the tented event center is “considered to be outside.” Owera subsequently rescheduled the event to occur on June 22 from 1 to 4 p.m.
On Friday, June 6, Owera’s attorneys at Menter, Rudin and Trivelpiece filed an appeal of Cook’s decision with the Town Zoning Board of Appeals, claiming that the decision, “was not supported by either the town code or Owera’s site plan approvals and it conflicted with both plain language and common sense … [and therefore] lacked a rational basis and is therefore arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion.” Owera’s appeal also claimed that the decision would have a “significant impact” on the winery’s future operations.
The interpretation and enforcement of Owera’s allowed operational guidelines was a major issue between the winery, its neighbors and the town in 2013, which culminated in Owera being issued violation citations by Cook, appeals to the State Department of Agriculture and Markets and a refusal by the state liquor authority to grant Owera liquor and catering licenses for the 2014 season.
The causes of the previous controversy concerned Owera holding numerous events — mainly weddings — in the event tent hours beyond its approved hours of operation and with amplified music of such excessive volume that neighbors claimed it was destroying their quality of life.
Under Owera’s operational authorization, all events must end by 5 p.m., unless they occur inside a building, which events must end by 10 p.m. The persistent disagreement between Owera and the town was whether the event tent was an indoor or an outdoor structure, with the definition having a direct effect on the winery’s event hours. Owera claimed the tent was indoors, therefore its events could go until 10 p.m.; the town disagreed.
In recent months, Owera has been working with the town to address the issues and seek remedies that would allow them to continue their events in the three-season event tent while complying with the town’s determined operational guidelines. Muserlian previously applied for permission to build a new events building as a way to end the disagreements. That application was withdrawn, although Muserlian said she is continuing to work towards the erection of a new building.
In its June 6 appeal, Owera’s attorneys repeated the claim that the event tent is “not a porch or veranda, or even a typical tent; it is a substantial, fully enclosed, semi-permanent structure, fully protected from the elements.” To consider events occurring in the tent as outdoor activity therefore is unreasonable, against plain language and common sense.
The appeal states that the town code offers no definition for “outdoor” in general, but it does define “outdoor storage” as keeping items “outside of a structure.” Since the winery’s original site plan approval labels the tent a “tent structure,” by analogy, holding events within said structure “should not constitute outdoor operation.”
Owera’s appeal states that the site plan approval containing its allowed hours of operation “were not a condition of the planning board’s approval of the event center and therefore hours of operation are not enforceable under the approval.” The appeal also states, “There is no indication such hours [of operation] were intended to be mandatory and binding on the [Owera].”
Owera requested that its appeal be placed on the ZBA agenda for its June 23 meeting, and ZBA Chair Chris Fischer has confirmed that the issue will be discussed at that meeting.
In light of Owera’s appeal, the Cazenovia Town Board at its June 9 regular monthly meeting unanimously approved a resolution to hire the law firm of Germain and Germain to represent the town before the ZBA at a cost of $175 per hour because town attorney, John Langey, will represent Cook and cannot act as legal counsel for both Cook and the town.
The full text of Owera’s appeal to the ZBA is available for public viewing at the town office.
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.