Winery gets special event endorsement

Heads butted at Monday’s city council meeting but a Naramata winery was given the endorsement as a special events area.

Heads butted at Monday’s city council meeting over adjustments to special events operations at a Naramata Bench winery, but it was given the endorsement.

“With time the (neighbours) will be able to see that nothing’s going to change and it’s not scary,” owner of Bench 1775 Winery Val Tait said. “But it may take time to alleviate people’s fears.”

Council decided to allow Bench 1775 Winery to operate with a Special Events Area (SAE) endorsement, recommending the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch supports Bench 1775 Winery’s application, with restrictions against weddings going longer than 11 p.m., private parties 10 p.m., and ticketed events at 9 p.m. A cap of a maximum of 150 patrons at any event was also endorsed.

Only Coun. Tarik Sayeed voted against the recommendations, showing concern for those with farms and families who didn’t want to be kept up late at the mercy of loud neighbours. He said he worries for the state of the neighbourhood if other wineries follow suit and begin hosting special events regularly.

“Wineries need to exist as wineries,” he said.

In response, Coun. Judy Sentes said the times have changed, and any winery that might apply for an SAE in the future will also be subject to the city’s Good Neighbour bylaw, which regulates against unruly noise.

“We are a pro-business council,” she said in her reasoning.

In hopes of mitigating concerns, the Bench 1775 Winery engaged neighbours during a public consultation process over the past month. Despite the effort, neighbour Debbie Sorter said she remains strongly opposed against the SAE licence. Sorter said she understands the emotional attachments that form between wineries, beautiful scenery, and special events, but doesn’t think an SAE suits the neighbourhood.

“How is their slim profit margin our concern,” she said.

Neighbours of the winery filled the council chambers, some distraught council’s decision would likely set a precedent. Jim Forsyth said he understands the balance that needs to be struck between business interests and residents’ enjoyment, and argued that bed and breakfast businesses will be threatened by the increased levels of noise and traffic.

Furthering that argument, Riddle Road Retreat co-owner Doug Stewart said that he and his wife were walking their dog one night and could hear loud, audible music playing until 11:40 p.m. – and that was from 1.5 kilometres away.

While speaking before council, Tait addressed the scrutiny from her neighbours. She said there was no event taking place during the night in question, re-iterating she’s approachable and encouraged neighbours to discuss any concerns with her in person. Tait said they are not expecting to host more than eight special events per year.

With an SAE, a winery can organize events with less red tape, and assume liability for functions held on their property – rather than forcing third-party liability. Also with an SAE, the winery will be allowed to serve its product outside of its tasting room. Without an SAE, wineries can still host special events, but has to micro-manage each function. Bench 1775 Winery currently uses this method for weddings and special events.

Many of the neighbours’ concerns related to the level of noise that will likely increase with an SAE. Coun. Max Picton said that bylaws are already in place against excessive noise, and opposed restrictions against limiting entertainment.

The practicality of those bylaws were disputed, as some public comments called bylaw services ineffective after 4:30 p.m. Coun. Helena Konanz then proposed an amendment that no amplified music be allowed.

Picton said non-amplified music is often louder than instruments that plug in, and acoustic noises cannot be turned down by a dial. Her motion did not receive enough support then a motion was presented to limit the live music to 9 p.m. for weddings, instead of the staff recommendation of 10 p.m.

“How many of you have been to a wedding that shuts down at 9 p.m.?” Picton asked. “If (Bench 1775 Winery) wanted to right now, they could start playing a DJ off their deck – just without alcohol. Perhaps existing bylaws just need to be enforced more.”