The Colony makes its case to Woodstock’s planning board

Woodstock’s planning board is willing to give The Colony beer garden on Rock City Road another chance at lowering the sound level of its music. A new proposal from the owners will offer to feature bands whose sounds don’t carry through the hills and valleys of the town famous for its music. Colony co-owner Alexia Howard also floated the idea of an agreement on hours, sound level and type of music

“If it comes down to us having no live music in the beer garden, then so be it,” Colony co-owner Neil Howard told the planning board. “If we can do one concert a summer, let’s talk about it. If we can do Saturday afternoons, let’s talk about it. But I’m saying that’s not the make-or-break for me …. I just want to have an outdoor space in the summertime. If music is not allowed, then it’s your guys’ call. I mean, if you really don’t want live music in Woodstock in summertime, then I’m fine with it.” 

He didn’t seem happy about that possible outcome. “But it changes our bottom line incredibly, so there’s only so much we can do with post-Covid numbers.”

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The planning board reported more than 70 emails about the beer garden, with the majority in support. Many expressed their gratitude to the Howards for providing a safe, family-friendly outdoor refuge from the loneliness and isolation forced by Covid. But several voiced complaints about the being disturbed by the music traveling as far as Ohayo Mountain and beyond, interrupting their ability to enjoy tranquility in their yards or on their decks.

The beer garden was open in June 2020 under a town emergency order waiving site-plan approval for establishments to provide outdoor seating and entertainment. That order has expired. Businesses must obtain town approval to make those arrangements permanent.

At the meeting of the planning board, member Judith Kerman asked about unamplified music. Howard was amenable to that to some degree. “I’m fine with that,” he said. “I’m fine with making it just like a busker garden, you know, if we can get people out there in different sections and just playing music. The problem is even a drummer, like the drum circle, they’re not amplified at all, but you can hear that for miles and miles.”

Alexia Howard said the owners had talked about moving the stage, “… having it not blast up Ohayo Mountain, surrounding it on three sides to try a different position and buffering and no amplification or a small amount.” 

“We’d like to try a mitigation season as a trial before it’s outlawed,” Neil Howard said.

Alexia Howard said The Colony was not asking for a big variance in the noise ordinance, but the ability to operate in some way. “We’ve even looked at certain sound systems that that actually can cut off the decibel rating down by 25 decibels at the edge of a certain area. We’re willing to try anything,” she said. “And as long as we’re not, frankly, pissing anybody off, we just want an opportunity for a season to try it in a way that people that are worried about it can’t hear it or be bothered by it.”

Neil said he has had arguments with the sound tech about the volume in an effort to keep everyone happy.

“I want the audience to think it’s too quiet. I don’t want the neighbors [to think it is] too loud. It’s a pretty easy gulf to keep it stupid-low without giving up all amplification,” he said.

Planning board member John LaValle, who lives about a mile and a half from The Colony, was amenable to a trial run with a change in times. “Trying to limit it to the amount of acoustics with a limited time period, and let’s have acoustic music at a certain period of time, and maybe amplification at another period of time might be a good compromise on a trial basis,” he said.

LaValle said there were times he could hear individual conversations going on at Andy Lee Field, just down the road from The Colony. “It’s bizarre. It’s just depends upon the weather and the acoustical bounce, whatever it’s bouncing off,” he said. “We’re in the middle of the mountains. It’s very difficult. This is an incredibly difficult thing to try to get your hands around.”

Planning-board member Brian Normoyle applauded the Howards for their efforts in trying to mitigate the sounds traveling far and wide. “My partner’s performed there before, and it is part of our community, and they’ve tried very hard during the pandemic, and there’s a lot of support, but we have to listen to the individuals that are impacted negatively by this,” Normoyle said. His vote “would be to try a trial and be pragmatic about it. We’re going to find out pretty quick whether you’re successful or not and you know what not to do …. So you have to restrict days and times, and then acoustics, and then let’s see what happens.”

If an agreement on sound level and type of music is not possible, Alexia Howard said, “Then we just back to pure acoustic, and we know this thing’s going to find its own level. We don’t want to be upsetting people on the street. We’re not we’re not trying to be bad neighbors.”

The Howards will think about the details of their proposal and present it to the planning board at a later date.

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