By Jason Emerson
In a discussion that lasted more than two hours and was, at times, heated, East Lake Road residents who live near Owera Vineyards demanded Tuesday night, July 12, that the Cazenovia town board take action against both its own town planning board members and the winery owners as a way to undo the June approval of Owera’s extended operating hours and to prevent loud event music from the winery from returning to the neighborhood and destroying quality of life. Residents asked for certain members of the planning board to be removed from the body for negligence and conflict of interest, and threatened to sue the town itself to appeal the planning board’s June decision.
For their part, town board members said that the proposed town noise ordinance and special events laws that were never brought to a vote in 2014 are still on the table and will be passed and put into effect if necessary due to continued complaints and noise violations by Owera. The board also said they will actively be monitoring Owera’s sales under its start-up farm license to ensure winery events and non-wine sales do not outsell their wine production, as is required under state law, and if Owera did not cooperate, the board will get the numbers one way or another.
After two years of relative quiet between Owera and its neighbors, two recent events have rekindled the East Lake Road feud: the planning board’s June decision to extend winery hours, and the alleged return of excessive noise to the neighborhood from an Owera event held on Saturday, June 25.
The planning board decision of June 2 allowed the extension of the winery’s Wednesday and Thursday event hours from 5 to 9 p.m. in the seasonal event tent for corporate events only — no weddings or receptions — and would be for no more than 125 guests.
Winery neighbors claimed during the July 12 meeting that the planning board’s decision was not only “predetermined” and “underhanded and incompetent,” in the words of neighbor Jorn Clement, but also showed a complete disregard for the 2015 supreme court decision against Owera in which Judge Dennis K. McDermott said the town had the right to limit Owera’s operating hours in the winery’s proposed permanent event building — a building that was never built.
“This is now out of control,” said neighbor Marc Schappell, who co-owns Meadowood Farms. “There is no precedent for the expanded hours under McDermott’s decision.”
Clement claimed that certain members of the planning board acted with conflicts of interest and with incompetence in their June 9 approval for Owera and, as such, he demanded that the town board, which appoints planning board members, remove the offending members from that body.
Town Attorney John Langey said he has looked into the matter and he sees no evidence to justify the removal of any planning board members.
The neighbors also claimed that Owera once again has disregarded neighborhood quiet by hosting an excessively loud event at the winery on June 25.
Town Codes Enforcement Officer Roger Cook said that the town received nearly one dozen letters of complaint in the day or two after the event. Owera owner Peter Muserlian said the music was not from the winery, and Cook said he discovered that “several parties” were going on that night — high school graduation night — in the East Lake Road area, in addition to the Owera event. Muserlian went to the town office and read the letters of complaint and had a talk with Supervisor Bill Zupan, who asked for a list of upcoming Owera events. He and Cook then monitored the next Owera event, which was run in accordance with the winery’s operational guidelines, Cook said.
“Peter’s been good; there’s been one complaint in two years,” Zupan said. “He’s trying, I will say that.”
Regardless of Owera’s recent quietness, however, town officials said Tuesday they would not stand idly by if neighbors have complaints about noise. Cook said he and other town officials will be monitoring Owera events on a random basis from now on to ensure they are keeping noise to reasonable levels. Zupan said that if the noise and neighbor complaints continue, the board can and will pass into law a town noise ordinance and even a law to regulate special events — which were written but never approved — specifically to address the East Lake Road issues.
“If there needs to be a noise ordinance we can have it passed in two months,” Zupan said. “If it needs to happen it will happen, plain and simple.”
Most of the East Lake Road residents at the July 12 meeting, however, were not impressed by the town board’s statements. Schappell and his partner Tom Anderson, in particular, said they were fed up with the issue. “I feel like I’m on trial here,” Schappell said. “This is about good decision making. This has gone wrong from day one.”
“We are done,” Anderson said. “We are finished with this. You have welcomed a lawsuit.” The two men said the neighbors have every right to file an Article 78 proceeding against the town to appeal the planning board’s June 9 Owera approval, and they feel such an action is being forced upon them since the town is not acting in its citizens best interests.
Owera co-owner Nancy Muserlian did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.