Stowe Cider’s attempt to shift a zoning regulation around its garden space and indoor area to allow live music hit a roadblock after a nearby resident’s complaint left them in limbo.
The local cidery’s outdoor dining area — a former sculpture garden — expanded during the coronavirus pandemic to allow for safer revelry and smaller outdoor live music events.
In a bid to alter its zoning permit, Stowe Cider is asking to host live music in the garden in the summer and indoors in the winter. That request was unanimously approved in May by the town’s development review board, and it officially took effect June 7.
But an appeal filed later that month protested the change on the grounds that an event space would be too loud. The complainant also forced the cidery to close the garden space while the board considered the appeal.
This has, according to Stowe Cider, resulted in the loss of revenue and forced them to let go employees.
“We’re here on Mountain Road in a tourist town, a town that’s designed to host entertainment, to bring people here for a variety of reasons, whether it’s for skiing or live music, shopping, festivals, events, farmers markets,” said Mark Ray, an owner and head cider maker at Stowe Cider. “It’s an entertainment tourist town, and that’s what we’re built here for.”
He said his business sits in an “industrial and commercial district” designed for tourist use. “There’s plenty of traffic that we bring to local hotels and restaurants, not to mention the other shops, gas stations and everything in between,” he said.
A process underway
When the development review board issued its initial decision in May, Ray and Stowe Cider began altering their space, making expensive changes designed to increase the safety of the garden area, some of which were mandated by the board and others undertaken on their own.
If the board now denies the zoning change, Ray said that will mean thousands of wasted dollars, including a $17,000 check to the water department that’s already been cashed.
Other comparable breweries like The Alchemist, which just opened a beer garden space, and von Trapp Brewery and Bierhall have been allowed outdoor spaces with music. According to Ray, smaller live music events held on the other side of the main building hadn’t been met with complaints in four years.
“We’ve now missed July 4, we’ve missed most of the summer, most of the sales that come through summer tourism here in Stowe,” Ray said. “So after quite a bit of hiring, investment into the infrastructure, training and now, unfortunately, the loss of wages not only to our staff, but all the local artists, musicians, production crews and everybody that comes through, we put a lot of deposits down.”
After he initially spoke at the May meeting of the development review board at which Stowe Cider’s zoning change received its initial verbal approval, Stowe resident Dave Gellis successfully halted the decision with an appeal letter to the board in June.
Though the board is not under any obligation to pause or reverse its decision because of an appeal, doing so signals that the board felt the appeal merited consideration.
The Gellis residence is on Lapelle Lane, due north of Stowe Cider, approximately a mile toward the mountain and separated by the Stowe Country Club. Gellis purchased the house and 3.9 acres in March 2015 for $1.5 million.
Gellis’ lawyer, Brice Simon of Breton & Simon, submitted the letter asking the board to reconsider, accusing the board of failing “to adequately consider the impact of the project on the character of the area impacted by loud music.”
Simon said the board’s decision was based on misrepresentation from Stowe Cider about the intended decibel level of its music events and that the board should require more conditions on proposed noise mitigation measures.
The letter urged the board to put decibel limits on how much noise can be created by events at Stowe Cider, that live music events should be limited to once a week and end before 8 p.m., and the allowance for live music should expire in a year so the board could reconsider its decision.
Ray and Stowe Cider have planned to hold up to four live music events a week with all of them ending around 8 p.m., save for an “oddball” weekend event that might go until 9:30 p.m.
“I’ve invested in a decibel meter, I’ve run the meter around the property, across the street of the townhouses, through the golf course up into different neighborhoods off Mountain Road,” Ray said. “But you know, the town of Stowe does not have a noise ordinance. The only ordinance is that it needs to end by 10 p.m. We’ve acted directly within that.”
According to Sarah McShane, Stowe’s zoning director, a single complainant prompting the reconsideration of an approved zoning change is not unusual and zoning approval of businesses hosting live music in the town often have regulations regarding noise attached.
“I’ve provided anybody who’s reached out with questions, including the resident who is not a fan of the music, with my personal cell phone number,” Ray said. “We’ve contacted him during sound checks during testing of sound equipment, asking if the sound was OK and received that, ‘Yes, the sound is good.” Two hours later, the sound was intrusive.”
A new decision
A hearing on the live music will be held next Tuesday, July 20.
Ray and his cidery are, of course, hoping the board will stand by its initial approval, but the development review board could also issue a new decision with new restrictions and requirements.
Stowe Cider has attempted to rally community support allowing live music with an online petition that has received 1,500 signatures.
Ray is also concerned that, should the board issue a decision allowing live music, Gellis will take the fight to state environmental court and make an argument that live music would allegedly create noise pollution in violation of Act 250, Vermont’s wide-ranging environmental protections law.
“We put our heart and soul into this space for this summer and it just feels a bit like that the rug has been pulled out without a lot of communication, unfortunately, from the town, other than we got a letter that it’s going to be reconsidered,” Ray said. “So, we don’t know a ton of the details on what they’re thinking. The way it’s set up, we’re going into this meeting blind. We’ve done everything they’ve asked, but it sounds like they’re gonna ask more of us now.”