Supporters of outdoor music in Woodstock have launched a petition drive to get the Town Board to change zoning regulations to allow it to continue.
In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Colony Beer Garden became an oasis for people seeking refuge from lockdown isolation and provided musicians with income. Even after restrictions relaxed, other venues, including Bearsville Center, realized many people still preferred to be outdoors. But there was a problem. Outdoor music had been allowed by executive order from town Supervisor Bill McKenna that waived Planning and Zoning review. But now decibel limits are back in effect, requiring any music to be at or below 64 decibels during the day and 60 decibels at night. That level is either measured 10 feet from the source or at the property line.
Those limits pretty much eliminate any form of outdoor amplified music. A noise ordinance, adopted in 2018, references an event permit to get around those limits, but it is not clear who has the authority to grant those permits and they must be obtained for each event.
Colony Woodstock owner Neil Howard just wants some form of outdoor music to have a future so he can plan and schedule and have a viable business.
While the petition drive launched August 6 at the beer garden during a concert featuring reggae band The Big Takeover, Howard wanted to make it clear the goal is a solution that allows outdoor music for everyone, not just Colony.
The petition asks the Town Board to form a committee that will either amend the zoning or draft a new law to create a solution that allows the music to continue while addressing the concerns of residents who have argued it disturbs the peaceful enjoyment of their property.
“Well, first and foremost, this is not my petition. This is something that people came to me asking for some sort of guidance on and I thought we needed to get on the same page at least, to have one petition about music in town and not a Colony one and a Bearsville one and a Station one and a generic one,” Howard said. “I didn’t write it. People know the situation much better than I wrote it…Obviously, the Colony as a business wants the ability to just play music outside without having to worry about repercussions and complaints and stuff like that. Regardless of volume levels, we would never want to make people complain…But we want it to be essentially legal. At certain times of the day or week, it should be okay to have bands playing outside. If that’s not the case, we need to address it. Simple as that.”
Colony is not proposing to do what it did in the height of COVID, but still wants the ability to regularly have outdoor music “During COVID it was a full festival sort of five days a week, 40 hours a week trying to get my staff hours and trying to get bands gigs,” Howard said. “We don’t need to or want to do that ever again. It was a huge headache. It was the longest-running festival probably in the history of the Catskills and it was very hard. We pulled it off,” he said. “But we don’t want to do that again. We want to have maybe couple happy hours and hours on the weekends with reasonable volume. I don’t think that’s a very hard ask at all. But people need to lose this idea that we want to do eight hours a day outside seven days a week or whatever it was.”
Colony has even sought innovative ways to make sure the sound is directional and contained to the property as much as possible. Neil and his wife Alexia reached out to Boston-based Brown Innovations to come up with a system of about 24 speakers throughout the beer garden that channel the sound and it drops off significantly outside each unit’s area of coverage.
“It makes the music more playable for us without disturbing neighbors,” Howard said.
But the speakers don’t solve the issue of higher volume from certain instruments including horns and drums that naturally are louder and carry further on their own.
It also doesn’t address the issue of the decibel limits in the zoning and whether they are practical or reasonable. People talking, or even wildlife, can be louder than the 60 decibel nighttime limit. At 11:30 p.m. on August 6, long after The Big Takeover had finished, the background noise from the remaining crowd averaged 62 decibels and peaked at 85 decibels when measured with a smartphone app.
The first season of the beer garden went on without much of an issue, but complaints mounted last summer when some bigger, louder bands originally scheduled for the indoor stage were moved outside because of a COVID surge.
When the emergency order expired and it was time for Colony to get permanent approval, emails flooded into the Planning Board. They were largely in favor, but many wrote to complain about hearing the music up in the mountains and all around town. The area’s geography is such that sometimes sound can’t be heard next door, but can be heard a mile or more away from the source.
The petition is available at Colony Woodstock, 22 Rock City Road, Woodstock, and will soon be distributed to other locations. There is one version for Woodstock residents and another for non-residents. This will also demonstrate how much of a draw from outside the area these outdoor events bring and promote tourism. Colony sold 587 tickets for the Big Takeover and the majority of attendees who signed the petition were non-residents.