Ball Dropping: Trustees Grant Inn Noise Variance

The Village Trustees last night granted a noise variance to the Woodstock Inn so that a band performing at a wedding this weekend could play until 10:30pm.

According to The Woodstock Inn’s Werner Graef, the resort has more than 40 weddings scheduled this summer, with only a handful involving outdoor bands. The noise variance requests (there have been two and several more are pending) is due to the fact that Graef says shutting down a wedding party at 10pm is a “non-starter” in trying to get, keep and encourage wedding business for the Inn.

The discussion leading to the noise variance decision was one which revealed what can only be described kindly as “ball dropping” at many levels — on the part of the Village Trustees, on the part of Town management and on the part of the Woodstock Inn.

It was a last-minute decision approved by Trustees Trish Compton, Eric Nesbitt and Chris Miller with Trustee Bob Pear dramatically refusing to even acknowledge an abstention from voting. He said, “I will not vote due to it being an illegal action by the Board.”

For Pear and several members of the public,  the issue is that procedure leading up to the vote was not followed.  Neighbors of the Woodstock Inn should have been accorded a ten-day notice of requested changes in noise variance (from 10pm on a Saturday night to 10:30pm). Several Woodstock Inn neighbors were in attendance at last night’s meeting but only due to Pear having informed them that the Trustees would be taking up the topic.

To follow a timeline on the issue and the apparent “dropping of balls” and a generalized laxity of rules…It appears that three things did not happen that should have:

1. Ball Drop #1: The Woodstock Inn NOT putting in a request for a variance far in advance of their weddings.  According to Mary Riley,  The Woodstock Inn submitted its request in mid-May for several wedding  (scheduled in June) noise variances which was not enough time for both a ten-day notice to neighbors and for the item to placed on the agenda and ruled upon at regularly scheduled Trustees meetings.

(High Street resident Gretchen Pear pointed out the Inn should have planned better, putting in its requests even sooner. She said, “This wedding wasn’t booked this week…now the Trustees are under stress to give a variance.” She added, “”I think you should follow procedure, not twist the law…the procedure is in place to protect the general public.)

2. Ball-Drop #2: According to the Village and Town of Woodstock’s Mary Riley, who handles the administration of volumes of Trustees and Selectboard paperwork, upon receipt of the mid-May requests,  there didn’t seem much urgency to send out letters since these noise variances involving the Inn have been granted routinely in the past.  (Meantime, The Woodstock Inn says the problem of the neighbors being notified of Saturday’s wedding has been rectified since letters were sent this week to five abutters of the Inn’s back lawn area.)

3. Ball Drop #3: The Trustees (Compton, Nesbitt and Miller with Coburn listening by phone) admitted they were not strictly following the letter of the law in  approving a variance without public notice. However, citing the need to support the Woodstock Inn and be flexible with Village ordinances, Nesbitt said “Everyone wants things to be black or white, right or wrong…A lot of times life is not like that.” He maintained,”There has to be some sort of leniency, a little bit of easement….”  He also read from a section of ordinance that approval of a noise variance could fall under language reading that Trustees have the “sole discretion” to grant variances if they act in good faith.  (To which Bob Pear snapped, “You didn’t act in good faith. You didn’t inform the neighbors!”).

Trustee Chris Miller voted for approval of the variance this time, but  said he wanted to change the noise ordinance for weekends once and for all from 10pm to 10:30pm and be done with the whole issue. He said, “Let’s do something about it. Make them (The Inn) follow the regs or change the regs; We are not giving the neighbors a chance.”

Chairman Candace Coburn, who was not at the meeting but was on the phone listening, had previously written an email on the noise variance issue which was read by Trustee Nesbitt. She wrote, “It is imperative to support business…give a little bit of leeway.” She added that she often, over many years, has heard noise from the basketball courts near her home and never complained, “I believe these are great noises. It is the cacophony of life in the Village.”

The Inn’s Graef also commented that only a few weddings out of the 42 scheduled planned bands on the back lawn of the Inn, “So I don’t think we’re asking an inordinate amount of variances.” He added, “Weddings are an important part of business, you can’t thrive without them.”

High Street resident Peggy Merrill , who lives directly across from the Inn’s back lawn and only knew of the meeting from being Trustee Pear’s neighbor , quietly commented, “My main concern is not so much the variance, it is the level of noise.” She said, “Six hours of drumming is not like a truck passing down the street. My suggestion would be to monitor the decibel level.” She noted that despite the apparent need to support the business of weddings, “Woodstock has cultivated a certain rural character. We are so small…to allow the town to become a “wedding mill” town..may be defeating the purpose (of our marketing).

The decibel level issue led to some tense words as Pear suggested hiring a noise and sound contractor (at a cost of @$800) to monitor the band at the Inn’s upcoming wedding to make sure they fall within acceptable decibel ranges.  To which Graef bristled, “We don’t need a guy to sit around and monitor…” since he said the Inn has invested in its own decibel level reading machine. Pear countered, “That would be like the oil companies monitoring their own oil spills.”

Audience member Sally Miller seemed able to help diffuse that issue but saying, “If the Inn is willing to do it….it is a good solution.”

It should be noted that a noise variance to the Inn for a wedding band was granted earlier this spring via phone “meeting”  that was also not noticed. Trustee Pear says he was not informed of the issue nor asked to weigh in by phone or meeting by Chair Coburn.

By the end of the discussion, after the vote, it was clear to everyone that a point had been made, that the timeliness of variance requests might be better, that notification of neighbors might be more diligently done and that Trustees should review whether they want to keep or change their weekend noise variance so as not to be presented with the same issues again.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Polly S Foley on June 13, 2012 at 10:04

    Doesn’t a wedding band usually follow a “wedding band”? Why all the fuss? This is ridiculous.

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  2. Posted by Jill M Davies on June 13, 2012 at 10:45

    Nice summary Julia

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  3. Posted by William Boardman on June 13, 2012 at 11:29

    Good story.
    Lots of people should be embarrassed, both by their actions and reactions.
    * The Inn’s sense of entitlement is as long-standing as it is offensive. Given the privileges the Inn has gotten over the decades, it is hardly onerous to expect it to (1) follow a rather easy-to-follow law or (2) show some gracious amends-making to its long-suffering neighbors.
    * The Trustees’ willingness to offer “a little bit of easement” to the Inn over and over is both lawless and hypocritical, given the absolute refusal to offer anything like “a little bit of easement” to people wrongly ticketed by the Village police year after year for turning left from Elm to Central Street at an intersection not lawfully marked.
    * The Trustees’ casual disregard of ordinances they themselves passed is an abuse of power on a small scale, not uncommon, and described by Hamlet as “the insolence of office.”
    * The idea that the Inn could monitor itself is absurd, but there’s no reason its equipment couldn’t be used in a transparent and cooperative manner to establish some realistic parameters of the actual problem. The Inn should offer to pay whatever costs there might be, given that their profits are derived in part from imposing uncompensated discomfort on others.
    * The Trustees are presumably looking out for the best interests of all village residents (I know, not really, never has been, but sometimes it helps to mention an elephant in the room) — the Inn (another elephant) doesn’t vote yet gets more deference than several living, breathing village residents? What’s wrong with this picture? (The question is rhetorical.)
    * The Trustees and the Inn make a mockery of bumper stickers about community.
    * Comparing local basketball players to a commercial wedding from out of town — really?
    Of course we’ve all become inured to a greater or lesser extent to lawless government at all levels or our society, and maybe the Trustees should be cut a little slack for falling so compliantly into the zeitgeist, and maybe the Inn should be forgiven for keeping its inevitable corporate predation relatively moderate over the decades, or maybe someone should just call in a drone strike (like the wedding we targeted in Pakistan…).

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  4. Posted by arthur skerker on June 13, 2012 at 11:44

    As a resident of Golf Ave., I can tell you that we have to close the windows whenever a band is performing outside at the Inn. I appreciate the 10:30 PM issue but am more concerned with the actual volume of the sound. The town noise ordinance states that it is prohibited to have any device produce sound that is audible 50 feet away from the operator (see below). Perhaps that is unrealistic…but isn’t it reasonable to ask that the bands temper the volume?

    §5303. Prohibitions; general prohibitions
    No person shall make or continue any excessive, unnecessary, unreasonably loud noise or disturbance, or any noise which disturbs, destroys, or endangers the comfort, quiet, repose, health, peace, or safety of others within the immediate vicinity of the noise or disturbance. Without limitations, the commission of one or more of the following acts, if done in such manner, shall be deemed a violation of this [chapter]:
    (a) Mobile, Portable or Outdoor Electronic Sound-producing Devices. The playing or use of a mobile, portable or outdoor electronic sound-producing device in such manner or with such volume at any time and place so as to disturb, destroy or endanger the comfort, repose, or peace of persons. Evidence of such disturbance shall be the use of electronic sound producing devices that are operated in such a manner to be plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet in any direction from the operator.

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    • Posted by Bob Pear on June 14, 2012 at 06:34

      One should note “WVO 5301 In order to balance the vitality of our village and to preserve the peace and promote civility and to prevent hearing loss, sleep loss and a general reduction in the quality of life, the Village of Woodstock will protect the public tranquility.”
      And add to WVO 5303 noted by Arthur on Golf Ave, “WVO 5303 section (b), Yelling, shouting, whistling, singing or making any other loud vocal noise so as to disturb, destroy, or endanger the comfort, quiet, repose or peace of persons in the vicinity of the noise or disturbance.”

      One person hears music, another person hears noise. We have laws so we don’t have to have the discussion on what bothers one person but not another or whose opinion has greater merit, and as a result, pit neighbor against neighbor. When the laws are disregarded or applied unequally, the waters become murky and there is a general breakdown in the regard for law. This also leads to the general reduction in the quality of life.
      I do, as most do in our community, support the Inn. It is a vital part of our community. I also feel strongly that the Inn must flourish to benefit not only themselves, but us all. Without the Inn guests, our local businesses would suffer and and I feel the vitality of our village would diminish. But the community was not afforded the due process of law for this variance, which, in the words of Chris Miller, “should be very difficult to get”. There was poor planning on the Inn’s part as I am sure this wedding was booked long ago, the variance could have been sought long ago, and we, as a community, could have had a proper, civil and legal discussion and come to a fair compromise that would be agreeable to all. I would have this view regardless of the applicant for the variance, whether it was my neighbor right next door or across the brook. I am disappointed in the way this has been handled and saddened that relationships have potentially been damaged as a result. The community deserves better.

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  5. Posted by A. E. Norton on June 13, 2012 at 22:28

    As a resident of Linden Hill, I can tell you that the noise does surge right up that lil’ ol’ hillside. Washes up here like a tsunami. Other images could be called to mind. I can only imagine what it’s like down on Golf Avenue. In a way, it’s harder when you can’t quite hear the words, so all you get is a generalized noise. I am of two minds — the inn and town need the business, but it certainly does disturb the peace. As someone said, six hours of drumming (including many rim shots) isn’t the same as a truck — or even a fleet of Harley-Davidsons — passing by. (BTW, let me add, as resident nit-picker, it should be “de-fuze” the issue, not “diffuse” . . . 3rd para. from end).

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  6. Posted by Bruce Seely on June 14, 2012 at 09:48

    6 hours of drumming? Really? doesn’t sound like any wedding I’ve been to.

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  7. Posted by William Boardman on June 14, 2012 at 12:07

    Weddings are notorious for music that’s too loud for conversation at the wedding. And even if they weren’t, a little consideration for your neighbors is not a bad thing. Certainly better than the attitude that: it doesn’t disturb me, therefore it shouldn’t disturb you. Seriously?

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  8. Posted by Rodger Ansardy on June 14, 2012 at 17:26

    Ok…. Let me see if I get this….some Village residents are worried about people coming to Woodstock to be married and enjoy the village for all its charm, beauty and wonderful memories. They find it disturbing because a little noise will be heard untill 1030p…only 30 minutes beyond the present ordinance…….REALLY lets get real !!!… There are many more pressing issues out there to deal with……!!!!!

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    • Actually this issue is not particularly about a half hour give or take.

      It’s about the free for all and lack of fairness that ensues if no one follow rules including those in local government.

      We may not like it but democratic government is about process. If one ignores the process, one both disrespects the concept of democracy and the voices of its citizens.

      Aside from that, noise is a health issue. The folks who visit Woodstock and those who live here did not arrive hoping for the din of urban life.

      Like it or not, Village Ordinances are meant to keep that din at non-stressful levels.

      WEB

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  9. Posted by Pat & Dave Crocker on June 14, 2012 at 23:50

    Public process is very important for one thing and for another, there are several “inns” in the village that are located in residential neighborhoods in addition to the The Woodstock Inn. The public policy on time for ending a celebration should be consistent and fair to all, and it should be a matter that the public has a right to information and opportunity to comment. It should be a matter for the VDRB, rather than the trustees.

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