Bearsville Center seeks approval for limited outdoor music
Outdated zoning and conflicting noise regulations may put a damper on Bearsville Center’s outdoor music plans and the frustrated Woodstock Planning Board says its hands are tied.
Resort owner Lizzie Vann told planners she was seeking a special use permit for Memorial Day weekend, July 4, a date in August and Labor Day weekend to have music outdoors. “It’s different from what we did during the pandemic period, because at that time it was not necessary to apply for a permit. We were, some weekends, taking things outside. But we decided to limit it to these five weekends. Most of the time it’s just a one-day use, in fact an afternoon, rather than several days,” Vann said at the May 19 Planning Board meeting. . “We are very aware of the concerns of our neighbors and all the work that has been done on noise, music and Woodstock.”
Planners ultimately voted to approve her Special Use Permit on the condition that she obtain permits from the city for each event. The responsibility then rests with the city building or police department to deal with any noise complaints.
Vann said he’s installed a temporary outdoor stage that will be electronically linked to internet-monitorable decibel meters where everyone, including musicians, the city and law enforcement officials, can see the levels. “We will also rely on the musicians themselves, who I know may be a little optimistic, but they will have screens in front of them that will change from green to red if they exceed the level of decibels that we have given them. fixed,” Vann said. “Plus, our sound tech will be aware of it and he can control it from his mobile iPad that he’s walking around with.”
In the backyard next to the theater, Vann said the plan is to install private listening “pods” containing speakers that are at a low enough level that only occupants can hear sound.
“We believe that we can produce sound on stage that falls between 70 and 80 decibels. So we’ll try to make sure it works, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll find another solution,” Vann said. “We don’t want to be a nuisance to our neighbours, but we also need to be commercially viable.”
All outside music will be acoustic, so there will be no drums or electric bass, she said.
But outdoor amplified music is not permitted in the Neighborhood Commercial Area and permitting such use may be outside the authority of the Planning Board. This restriction is in addition to the citywide Noise Ordinance, which prohibits excessive or unreasonable noise levels.
Unable to bypass zoning
“The problem is that there are two provisions of the code which, as I read them, are binding on us and we need to address them,” Planning Council co-chairman Stuart Lipkind said. “There are sound limits set in code for various zoning districts in the city and for NC, the neighborhood commercial district where the Bearsville Center is located, the code states that any noise coming from a property in that location will not can exceed 64 decibels from 7 a.m. at 9 p.m. or after 9 p.m., it’s 60 decibels.
Colony Woodstock, which also requires permission for outdoor music, is in a different area, but its decibel limits are the same.
“My understanding is that this is about a normal level of conversation, and if you’re looking for a commercially viable musical arrangement, you’ll have to go above those levels,” Lipkind added. “As a planning board, I don’t know how we can grant permission for something that exceeds the standards prescribed by the code.” He suggested that a waiver from the Zoning Appeal Board might be the right solution.
The other issue that concerned Lipkind was the general standard for a Special Use Permit, which states that all activities involving amplified sound must take place entirely within a structure or structures. “So how do we have the power to allow amplified sound outdoors? Doesn’t the code clearly say it has to be inside? »
Planning Council member Judith Kerman agreed that the language is absolute. “I think it’s one of those things where somebody wasn’t thinking about who Woodstock is when they wrote the code. But it’s there. And we can’t do it unilaterally,” she said. declared.
Vann pointed out the practical impossibility of decibel limits in code. “I use my decibel meter to listen to you while you’re here. And you speak between 70 and 84 decibels, which is higher than 64 decibels,” Vann said.
Lipkind noted whether music is amplified or not, it must always stay within decibel limits, an obstacle that puts Vann in a dilemma.
“What do you advise us to do, then?” I don’t understand,” Vann said.
“Because what you’re saying is that if someone is talking at home, at 70 decibels, and we’re at 68 decibels, because it’s more than 64 decibels, we shouldn’t be allowed to do music, even if it’s acoustic music. ,” she added. “It just seems crazy, it doesn’t seem to allow anything outside. A truck driving on 212 is going to be 80 or 90 decibels.
Lipkind agreed, but didn’t believe there was any flexibility. “It’s not my preference, but I don’t know how we can ignore it. And also one of our concerns is that we don’t want to discriminate against one business owner over another. We try to have an impartial approach that respects everyone.
Kerman cited an exception in the noise ordinance that refers to “noise from individually sponsored events where a public assembly permit or other approval has been obtained from the city.” She conceded that there is some contradiction because the regulations governing event permits seem to deal only with selling.
Lipkind countered that the event permit provision only waived the restrictions of the noise ordinance. It does not deal with the zoning code. “It looks like the next step for you might be in the meantime, while this is being arbitrated, to seek a discrepancy with the Zoning Board of Appeals,” Planning Board member Conor Wenk told Vann. “I can’t tell you if it would be successful or not, but it would probably be the next step in terms of mining outside of one of the boundaries that we’re talking about right now.”
More tips needed
Vann again asked for help. “We really, really need advice on this, guys. We have gone through two and a half years of renovation. We have gone through two years of a pandemic. We really have to be viable. We have to have events outside because that’s what the public wants,” Vann said.
“What we’re up against, Liz, is that there are lawyers quoting us the same codes that we just talked about, representing clients, who are citizens of this city, who are complaining about the noise “said Peter Cross, chairman of the planning board. mentioned.
“How many noise complaints have there been in Bearsville? Vann asked. “I think three people are basically bankrupting us. And that means the city is not taking care of one of its occupants, which is us, who employ a lot of people… There will probably be around 50 people employed here by the end of it. of this year, and we pay a lot of tax. So we don’t have any kind of advice at this point, let alone support from the city, because I think three people regularly file complaints.
Cross suggested that the Planning Board approve the outdoor stage and other structures on a trial basis and if Bearsville Center is cited for exceeding noise levels, it’s a problem with the city’s building department.
Planning Council member John LaValle agreed. “The difficulty here is that it hasn’t been fixed for 40 years. It needs to be fixed at the city council level,” he said. “To allow these organizations to move forward… It’s is the only viable path we have. Because at this point the law does not work.
With the exception of Lipkind, who said he was opposed to approving an application in direct zoning violation, the planning board all voted to approve the special use permit on the condition that Bearsville Center obtain an event permit for days when music is to be performed.
Colony Woodstock, another music club in town, recently came up with a plan for its beer garden with specialized directional speakers. The Planning Board has chosen to approve the space and will address the issue of sound at another time. Similar to the Bearsville Center, amplified music may require a city-issued event permit on a case-by-case basis.