Jan 14, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Owera Vineyards has given up, for now, on its proposal to build a state-of-the-art, sound-proofed building in which to hold events on its East Lake Road property. Last Friday, Jan. 10, it withdrew its application for site plan review of the building from the Cazenovia Town Planning Board, Cazenovia Town Attorney John Langey said during the town board’s Jan. 13 meeting.
Owera attorney Antonio Caruso sent a letter to the town planning stating the withdrawal, but did not offer an explanation for the move, Langey said.
Owera’s action is part of a months-long dispute with the winery’s neighbors over loud music and late-night events, but may be an indication of the winery owners’ intentions, previously stated to the State Liquor Authority, to move out of the wedding business entirely because of the community uproar.
At the Jan. 13 town board meeting, however, the context of Langey’s statement concerned the board’s vote to hire a special counsel to the zoning board of appeals for its consideration of an appeal of the town codes enforcement officer’s interpretation of town zoning law as it applies to Owera. Langey, who typically represents the ZBA, said he helped CEO Roger Cook review town laws so he recused himself from the case as a possible conflict of interest.
Cook’s report, issued Dec. 17 and made at the behest of the town planning board, declared that under the code, as well as state Department of Agriculture and Markets law, Owera meets the definition of a farm operation and that it is a “winery,” it has the right to construct farm buildings that contribute to production, preparation and marketing of their farm product and it may hold functions, such as weddings, on the property to market their product. Winery neighbor Bryan Wendel appealed Cook’s decision to the ZBA.
With Owera’s building application withdrawn, Langey said he will discuss with the town board’s special counsel — the firm of Germain & Germain, LLP — what that means for Wendel’s ZBA appeal. He said he has been discussing with Wendel, Wendel’s attorney — who represents a coalition of Owera neighbors — and the ZBA chair how the appeal can be withdrawn but also “preserved” for future use of Owera’s application is resubmitted.
Also at the meeting, Langey updated the town board on his ongoing efforts to draft a town noise ordinance, which he said he would present to them at their February meeting. Langey also said the Madison County Planning Board issued a report last week commenting on Wendel’s ZBA appeal of the Owera issue, and it suggested that Cazenovia create a town-wide event policy to prevent future issues such as are occurring at Owera Vineyards. Langey said he is working on such a possible policy and will have a full report for the board in February.
During the town board’s public comment period of its meeting, Owera neighbor Sam Woods said he wanted to make clear to the board that the neighbors do not want to put Owera out of business, they simply do not want an “event center” in their neighborhood. He said they are looking for a “long-term solution” to the issue that goes beyond Owera. He said the town’s current work on a noise ordinance and an events policy were positive steps.
Brian Keeler, also an Owera neighbor, made similar comments to Woods, and said the neighbors want the town to protect citizens’ quality of life while also not discouraging business in the town.
Town Supervisor Bill Zupan said the board is charged with protecting the health and welfare of the community but “government moves slow. We’ll do everything in our power to make your quality of life as good as it was before.”
Owera’s withdrawal of its building application means there will be no events building on their East Lake Road property. The winery can still erect its event tent again when the events season starts in the spring, however, since the tent was approved with the winery’s initial site plan approval, Langey said.
The winery cannot currently do that, however, since it does not have a permit from the Madison County Department of Health to serve food at events in the events tent. That permit was not re-issued by the department for this year because the winery has two outstanding violations from the department of health: one for illegally improving their water system and one for illegally drilling a well, both of which occurred in July, said Madison County Director of Environmental Health Geoff Snyder.
In light of all these developments, Owera Vineyards owner Nancy Muserlian has started sending letters to brides booked for weddings in 2014 changing the conditions of their events. Where weddings in 2013 were allowed by the winery to go until 11 p.m. at any volume level, and alcoholic beverages other than Owera wines were served, this year things will change.
According to a letter to a bride obtained by the Cazenovia Republican, Muserlian said that in 2014 Owera will control all event music volume, no music will be allowed outdoors, all music will end at 10 p.m. and the only alcoholic beverages allowed to be served will be Owera wine, Henneberg Brewing Co. beer and Critz Farms’ hard cider. This latter condition was the result of the State Liquor Authority twice denying Owera’s application for a liquor license as well as the use of third-party caterers licenses.
“If any of the restrictions … are not acceptable to you, we will be more than happy to refund any deposit paid, and our events team will provide whatever assistance they can to help you secure another suitable wedding venue,” the letter states.
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.