Can you have your beer and drink it too?
The fate of a lawsuit between Olney Place owner Seth Olney and the Town of Barrington is in the hands of Judge Dennis Bender, who heard arguments from both sides July 14 in Yates County Supreme Court.
At face value, the conflict is a classic, yet complicated neighborhood land use dispute, but in a town where families have lived and worked side-by-side for generations, it has created deep fissures in relationships that many have considered as close as family.
Town Supervisor Philip Warren says, “It’s a sad situation. We want to see him (Seth Olney) prosper and have a great business. This has been tough on everybody. It’s not a good situation.”
Olney, who is the son of long time Barrington Town Board member Nate Olney, filed a lawsuit against the town in May, saying action the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals took in March seeks to add new and improper conditions to a special use permit the town granted.
Olney wants Bender to order the town to approve his application for expanding the area where customers can consume beer. It’s an application that had been approved more than two years ago, but then rescinded by town officials last year. He is also seeking $3,000 in reimbursement for fines he has paid to the New York State Liquor Authority. He says those fines are the result of town inaction.
At the same time the litigation is in Bender’s hands, the town has told Olney he could be subject to a fine of $250 per day for operating the tap room, where customers consume a variety of craft beers, after July 18. But Olney says he has a license to operate the tap room, and he insists he will not stop standing up to town officials. “This is far from over,” he says.
Olney’s attorney, Jessica Bryant, says town officials have not clarified what Olney needs to do to be considered “not in violation.”
“When I asked if they would dismiss the violation or at least hold it until the lawsuit is over, and allow him to make necessary changes after we have a decision, they declined, and stated that if the judge rules in their favor, they would charge him with a violation for each day from July 19 to the day we get the decision,” Bryant explained in an email.
Last fall, town officials rescinded permission it had given Olney in June for outside seating and occasional live music after some neighbors complained about noise, lights and behavior of people they say were patronizing Olney Place.
Then, this March, the Zoning Board of Appeals conducted an annual review of the 2013 Special Use Permit.
The resolution that was passed March 2 notes the use of the deck for access from the lawn to the tap room added to the store in 2013 does not cause more problems than other permitted uses. But, it says, “For the present, use of the Olney Place outside deck for loitering, eating and/or drinking is prohibited. The current use of the deck for access to the lawn area may be continued as long as it is controlled a a passage way only, with no loitering. If this does not happen on two or more occasions, then the use of the deck as a passageway would be rescinded and the deck closed off.”
Olney has roped off a walkway from the doors to the steps of the deck, and posted signs advising customers of the “house rules.”
Olney Place, located at 823 East Lake Road on Keuka Lake, sits near a number of lakeside residences and seasonal cottages on a site that has always had a retail establishment. It is within a Lake Residential District in the town’s zoning designations. According to Olney, it is the only business operating within the lakeshore area of the town.
The store includes grocery, deli, and local items as well as gasoline sold from a dock at the lake. It is a business with a long history. Before Olney purchased the store in 2006, it had been known as “Froggy’s,” a small market and deli which also offered live bait and lakeside gas sales. Prior to being known as Froggy’s it was Kenyon’s.
That use, well established before any town zoning ordinances were adopted, was grandfathered to Olney by town officials. Olney replaced the original store building with a new structure, and in 2013, he was granted permission for the extension to the existing deli and market. That extension contains the tap room. The deck that seems to be the center of the conflict, is located off the southwest corner of the building, and its steps lead to a lawn area where customers have consumed beer and food at picnic tables since the Olney’s Place opened.
Warren says the town board has recused Nate Olney, who is also Deputy Supervisor, from town board discussions and action related to the conflict.
Warren delegated Barrington Code Enforcement Officer John Griffin and Board Member Sue Lange, who previously served on the Town Planning Board and was involved in developing the town’s comprehensive plan, to communicate about the situation.
According to information provided by Griffin and Lange, the expansion permission granted in 2013 was described as: “An addition that includes a fully enclosed 20 ft. by 30 ft. porch for the purposes of additional retail space and seating.” Griffin says Zoning Board of Appeals minutes document that Olney said the building plans did not include plans for a bar.
But Olney says Griffin, as Code Enforcement Officer, was at the site multiple times during construction and saw the tap lines intended to serve craft beers.
A statement released by Griffin and Lange last week says, “Mr. Olney emphasized that the enclosed porch would be primarily for conversation or food and that customers would not be served in the porch. With regard to the rear deck/patio, Mr. Olney said this to the ZBA: ‘the deck is the transition from the enclosed porch to the lawn with two steps down. There may be one table there, but nothing more.’”
Griffin and Lange say this statement was important for the ZBA’s granting of the Special Use Permit because the area is zoned residential.
Neighbors have lodged complaints against the business with town officials, and allege there has been verbal harassment; eggs thrown onto a driveway, trespassing on private property, boaters using neighbor’s private docks, people swimming off private docks, and walking across neighboring lawns late at night. One of the neighbors who has complained, Donald Banzhaf, bought his seasonal home in 2010.
Griffin and Lange write, “The neighborhood is in constant turmoil. One can see that having a bar in a residential neighborhood is not conducive to maintaining the rural residential character the town desires.”
Town officials allege the tap room and rear deck are not licensed by the State Liquor Authority, the basis for the current notice of violation. The SLA requires business owners to apply for a permit to add an unlicensed area to the licensed premises. Part of that process includes documents from the town. Olney’s complaint says the town failed to provide the documents, which resulted in the SLA fining him $3,000.
The New York State Liquor Authority website lists an active “Eating Place Beer” license for the business that is effective until May 2019. “The state clearly has no issue with me selling beer in the original space,” says Olney.
Olney believes Bender will levy a decision relatively quickly. But the question is whether that will bring peace to the neighborhood. Olney says the conflict has damaged the town’s reputation, and will keep other businesses away.