Cambria board reins in special events

Connor Hoffman/Staff

The crowd at Cambria’s Town Board meeting on Thursday evening. The room was so packed that some attendees had to watch the proceedings from the hallway. 

SANBORN — By a 3-2 vote, the Cambria Town Board adopted proposed amendments to the town zoning ordinance including a controversial new section that requires certain businesses to get special event permits for certain events. 

Town Supervisor Wright Ellis and Councilman Joseph Ohol both voted against the amendments. 

Cambria Town Hall was packed for the vote; not a single seat was unfilled and residents were even watching the meeting in the hallway. 

A motion to postpone adoption of the amendments until the board’s April 11 meeting was voted down. 

The public comment portion of the public hearing on the amendments drew various concerns from residents, who were mostly against the amendments, with the exception of one who voiced support. 

That one resident was the neighbor of the winery that reportedly inspired the town board’s desire to change the zoning ordinance. 

Tim McGinnis, a Baer Road resident, said Gust of Sun winery has caused him numerous problems over the years, including littering of his front lawn, vehicles turning around in his driveway and some even driving on his lawn, as well as winery visitors vomiting and individuals exposing themselves to his teenage daughter. 

“This new ordinance would help reduce those issue,” McGinnis said. 

He also attacked the owners of Gust of Sun for creating products that were not made with grapes grown on their land. One of the amendments to the zoning ordinance requires an agriculture business to have 51 percent of its product grown on their land. 

“If the event is promoting their product that they produced off their lands, they should not be penalized with large fees for permits, such as the sunflower field,” McGinnis said. 

Winery co-owner Erik Gustafson said his neighbor’s accusation “could not be further from the truth,” adding that the town cannot verify any of those claims because “a lot of them were exaggerated and not true.”  

“We’ve been extremely vigilant and maintained a very respectful property,” Gustafson said. 

Regarding using grapes from another farm, Gustafson said he had to when a recent drought affected his crops. 

He said that his business has turned away buses carrying passengers that appear too intoxicated. 

Gustafson also disputed accusations of his winery having loud music at its events.  

“During one of our recent musical events, I took a decibel meter to the closest point on our property to one of the neighbors’ homes to see what the decibels were, crossing the property line,” Gustafson said. “The meter recorded 50 decibels, which according to the scale, equates to quiet library volume.”

Tyler Booth, a Ridge Road resident, said state law is written to protect businesses from being attacked by a municipality “under the guise of protecting the public.” 

“You need to have a reason that affects the entire town, not just what one neighbor says in the town,” Booth said.

After the board’s vote, Plank Road resident David Edbauer attacked the council members who voted for the amendments, Jeffrey Hurtgam, Matt Foe and Randy Roberts, saying he was appalled at their decision. He added that with all the concern expressed at the Thursday meeting, the board should have delayed adoption of the amendments.

“What was the rush?” Edbauer asked.”So you take a month or two to actually hear what the concerns of the citizens were.” Ellis said the changes were submitted to the state Agriculture and Markets department and that, after suggesting some revisions, which the town accepted, the proposed amendments were supported by the agency.

In the revised zoning ordinance, a brand new section governs issue of special event permits for agri-tourism businesses  including breweries, cider mills, distilleries, meaderies, microbreweries and wineries. Ellis said Cambria officials looked at the Town of Lockport’s zoning ordinance as a guide.  

The purpose of a special event permit is to regulate events that do not relate to farm activities, Ellis said.

“It is the policy of the Town of Cambria to encourage all farm activities and especially innovative agricultural tourism/agribusiness related farm activities while protecting the comfort and safety of its residents to the greatest extent possible,” the revised ordinance reads. 

Ellis said he does not expect many businesses will be affected by the special event permit requirement because of the exceptions that are carved out in the ordinance. The specifically named event exceptions are Niagara County Wine Trail events, weddings, wine pairing dinners, showers, private parties and pig roasts. 

Another section outlines what activities are not considered “farm activities.” Some of the listed activities include live music, food trucks, vendors, pop-up boutiques, painting classes, baby/bridal showers, craft shows, hot air balloon rides, fireworks, pedal karts, cow train and other similar activities because it is “beyond the customary meaning of a farm operation” in state Agricultural and Markets Law.

Applications for a special event permit must be submitted to the town planning board 60 days ahead of the planned event. In the event it’s not, a permit request can be rejected or subjected to a late “processing” fee of $250, the ordinance says. The application fee for a permit is $250.

Any business that fails to get a special event permit is subject to a fine between $500 and $1,000. Businesses that fail to comply with permit terms can be fined, as well, and they may not be able to get additional permits, the ordinance says.