Little Compton licenses 28 vineyard concerts, weddings
Critics point to defects in approval
LITTLE COMPTON — The Little Compton Town Council last Thursday night voted unanimously to grant entertainment licenses to Carolyn's Sakonnet Vineyard (CSV) for "up to 14 concerts" on deed-restricted land and for "up to 14 [other] entertainment events" (understood to be mainly weddings) this summer on non-deed-restricted land.
The council proceedings took all of 17 minutes, before an estimated 130-140 mostly local spectators, who crammed into extra chairs and benches in the Town Hall council chambers, stood along the walls and in the hallway outside.
Included in the audience, one observer noted later, were Carolyn Rafaelian, the vineyard owner, and a number of CSV employees, whose presence went largely unnoticed.
"We do not intend to take comments from the audience tonight," said Council President Robert Mushen as the meeting began, "though we got hundreds of e-mails, inputs, letters etc.," copies of which had been provided to all council members.
The two license requests by CSV had been supplemented by hundreds of pages of legal memoranda, expert witness statements, and accompanying exhibits from CSV lawyers.
The motions to approve
The council action taken was on the two entertainment license applications submitted by CSV.
The first application was for 31 concert events, proposed to take place between the first of June and Labor Day. The 31 events included 14 concerts on Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m., 14 on Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m., and three on Saturdays for three hours each.
The vineyard had estimated that its activities could draw up to 700 people and 317 cars for a single event (saying Thursdays are the best attended).
Last week, the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust (the Ag Trust), with an eye toward what was consistent with conservation restrictions on CSV land, recommended council approval only for fewer than half the concerts CSV had sought — 14 instead of 31.
The second entertainment license application was for 14 weddings, on non-deed restricted land.
"Rather than reducing the intensity and frequency of non-residential uses in the residential zone, there is a 22 percent increase in the use proposed," Mr. Mushen said of the twoapplications.
The two council motions, both prepared ahead of time and read aloud by Mr. Mushen, drew scant comment, no objections, and only a few conditions attached to each by the councilors before they voted.
The first motion was to grant an entertainment license to the vineyard for use on Lot 8-9 on deed-restricted land "for up to 14 concerts."
The "conditions" of this license were said to include all those required by the owner of development rights (the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy, or Ag Trust), "landscaping screening to the satisfaction of the Zoning Board, and the continued use of state-of-the-art sound attenuation techniques, with particular emphasis on the east and west."
The area to the east includes homes along the east side of Watson Reservoir, across which sound is said to travel during the musical events. The area to the west includes homes along West Main Road.
The second motion was to grant an entertainment license to the vineyard for use on Lot 8-10 "for up to 14 entertainment events." Lot 8-10 is not protected by the conservation easement or development restrictions. The motion made by Mr Mushen, and successfully voted on, states that "in addition to those in the town ordinances, conditions of this license include the use of a sound attenuating structure [e.g. a large tent] to enclose the sources of amplified music, with particular emphasis on the east and west."
"What they have asked for now is increased entertainment," said Councilor Martaronas, about CSV's license applications. He said CSV had upped its requested functions from 37 last year to a proposed 45 for this year. "In my estimation that requires zoning relief, because it's an intensification of use, and we haven't got that."
"What we've tried to do," Mr. Mataronas, who appeared familiar with the motions Mr. Mushen was making, "is come up with a compromise to satisfy everyone, and in this instance probably no one."
"The vineyard in my opinion has not handled this very well," said Councilor Paul Golembeske, who spoke of the intimidation and the inference the vineyard conveyed of the possibility of a lawsuit against the town.
"Farming is a business and it needs to be profitable to succeed," he said.
"We need to balance the needs of citizens for peace and tranquility, and the rights of our businesses to operate in a manner that allows it to succeed," said Councilor Ted Bodington. "No matter what happens, not everyone is going to be satisfied."
The reaction by the audience in council chambers after the vote was mostly silence — very different from the applause and cheers that had greeted the decision of the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust (LCACT or Ag Trust) the week before.
The Ag Trust then had recommended to the council a reduction to 14 concerts from the vineyard's requested 31 such events on deed-restricted CSV lands over the summer.
"It's been very, very stressful on the whole town," said Council Mataronas after the meeting adjourned.
Asked in the hallway outside council chambers to comment, or say what happens next, Nicole Benjamin and Beth Noonan, attorneys for CSV, both said, "we can't comment."
"Clearly I'm disappointed," said Jim Tumber, a West Main Road resident who lives alongside the driveway leading east from the road into the vineyard, and whose back yard abuts a former hay field that holds overflow parking for the concerts.
Mr. Tumber has been vocal in his opposition to the noise, lights, traffic, and commotion that he says occur during and after concerts.
"The notion that 28 events may be fewer than last year, and is therefore an improvement, ignores the reality," he said. "That number (28) is an intensification of a commercial use from the way it was from before Alex and Ani bought the vineyard."
"The town made a significant error of law, in that a fundamental key criteria of the entertainment ordinance is the written opinion of the zoning officer that the proposed activities are compliant with zoning," said Christopher D'Ovidio, a lawyer who represents a number of citizens and neighbors objecting to the vineyard concerts.
Mr. D'Ovidio says "the license application is the same as last November, and the zoning official had written then that concerts and weddings aren't permitted at the vineyard, so why would his opinion change?"
Mr. D'Ovidio said the council "just voted against its own previous decision last November, when it directed the vineyard to seek zoning relief from the zoning official's opinion then that concerts and weddings were not permitted."
The license application, he said, requires that both the written opinion of the zoning official be attached to the license application, and the written affirmation from the Ag Trust, that the proposed activities are consistent with the deed restrictions, be also attached.
Contacted about this, Mr. Mushen and Carol Wordell, Town Clerk, said that the zoning official (George Medeiros) was in the hospital and was under doctor's orders not to work, and that the Ag Trust secretary, had gone out of town immediately after the recent Ag Trust meeting, and therefore hadn't had a chance to prepare the required letter dealing with the AgTrust's views regarding the consistency between the proposed activities and the conservation deed.
Simmons Cafe entertainment license
Also approved Thursday night was an entertainment license for Simmons Cafe and Market in Adamsville for eleven Friday night live music events from July 7 through Sept. 15, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m..
The Simmons Cafe council approval was also unanimous, and was greeted with applause and cheers from the audience.
The only condition attached to the Simmons Cafe license was that the "applicant provide to the Chief of Police proof of adequate available parking for intended audiences prior to the first event of the season and throughout the season."