October 3, 2023

Woodstock club can open its beer garden, but without musical amplification

Colony Woodstock plans to use some state-of-the art tech to keep sound within its outdoor…

Colony Woodstock plans to use some state-of-the art tech to keep sound within its outdoor boundaries, but that will have to wait for more Planning Board scrutiny. After an impressive demonstration of directional speakers from Boston-based Brown Innovations, Planning Board members still had some questions about its design and limitations. Given that Neil and Alexia Howard, Colony’s owners, want to have some semblance of a season in the outdoor beer garden, the Planning Board gave the OK for them to open the beer garden and decided to tackle sound issues as a separate issue. In the meantime, non-amplified music is permitted, provided Colony does not violate the town noise ordinance.

“Please understand that the Planning Board has no enforcement capabilities. All enforcement of town codes belongs to the zoning enforcement officer,” Planning Board Chair Peter Cross said at the May 5 Planning Board meeting. “What we have before us is a site plan review and site plans for the planning board, regards to parking, lighting, signs, entrance, exits, seating, and a stage design as such.”

Alexia Howard said that while it was clear people enjoyed outdoor music and came to the beet garden, there were a number of people who deserve not to be disturbed by sound that violates the town noise ordinance. The Planning Board told the Howards in January to come up with a plan to mitigate those concerns. “So we were then left in that January meeting with what to do with this apparent conundrum. We went off in search of a technical solution that would meet everyone’s needs,” Howard said.

Initially, they looked to what was being done to mitigate sound traveling from the UK’s famous Glastonbury festival, but found it wouldn’t work in the beer garden. “Last December we also saw a very creepy solution called voice-to-skull technology, which apparently was actually banned by the military because it ends up driving people mad because it actually puts voices in your head. So that was kind of out the window too,” she said. “And in the end, what we’ve landed on is something called directional speaker technology…It seems to me it’s kind of like the equivalent of lasers, but for sound instead of light. So while traditional speaker technology blasts sound in all directions, including straight up Ohayo Mountain, directional sound can be much more precisely contained within a specific area without annoying the neighbors.”

Brown Innovations President Kevin Brown set up two speakers in his back yard and demonstrated them through the meeting’s Zoom call. He had music playing and walked around with a precision microphone.

As soon as Brown walked outside of the speakers’ zone of coverage, the volume dropped significantly to where it could barely be heard. Brown estimates about 24 speakers would be used to cover the beer garden.

“From my understanding, with the plan that we’re working on, the grid, so to speak, that we’ve designed, there’s going be the stage and a section directly in front of the stage where hopefully, it will be just kind of loud enough to think you’re listening to rock and roll, and you can dance,” Neil Howard said. “Outside of that will be kind of a giant U horseshoe…everyone can talk, they can hear it a little bit, but they can talk fine and the kids are running around. Then outside of that it’s maybe a trickle at the fence line…The key is for us to give a reasonable facsimile of a decent live music experience, but with invisible curtains before the property line,” Howard added.

Alexia Howard said she and Neil read all the letters from people concerned about music traveling beyond the Colony boundaries and they worked hard to figure out how to solve the problem. “We listened, and we went out on a quest, and we really looked and searched the planet for a solution to this. And hopefully, we found a fairly exciting solution,” Alexia Howard said. “It may not be perfect. We’re not trying to do Coachella at the back of the Colony. But hopefully, it’s going to be enough to really contain the sound but have a nice experience.”

The directional speakers will not mitigate instruments whose sound naturally travels, like horns and drums. For that, careful vetting of musical acts will be key and the Howards say they are ready to tackle that. They envision the occasional loud bands, such as a Reggae festival, for which a one-time permit is an option.

“This isn’t a silver bullet solution to all the noise issues at all. This is like more like, can we feasibly have a little bit of a musical beer garden that can allow music to be wafting around, piped in no matter what, or late-night kind of danceable stuff that’s completely invisible to the surroundings,” Neil Howard said.

Conditional approval?

Cross said the Planning Board and Colony need to come up with plan to test the new sound system, but Neil Howard said he’d like to open his business.

“I’m willing to play myself on a ukulele seven days a week and have no other music, but I need to open my business and sell a burger or a beer this summer,” said Neil Howard. “And I can’t wait for this discussion to sort of resolve itself to the purity of all. We already bought this stuff,” he said. 

Cross outlined the planning board direction. “We need clarification either from zoning enforcement officer or from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Because as you know, we have other venues in town that are coming before us. And one of the solutions that they are getting is they have to apply for a special use permit to have a concert,” Cross said.

Howard put the situation succinctly. “We’re not talking about having music right now. We’re talking about being able to legally have a beer garden open with people in it drinking and eating beer and hamburgers,” Neil Howard said.

Tracy Kellogg, the Howards’ attorney, suggested a conditional approval so Colony can continue with construction and be allowed to open for the summer season. “At the same time, they can continue their presentation on how they are going to have the music meet the noise ordinance,” Kellogg said.

Planning Board member Judith Kerman said the noise ordinance rules on the question of sound and the rest of the application is appropriate.

Cross agreed. “We can approve the site plan as it stands. The noise law exists. We’re not creating it or enforcing it or even applying it to this case,” Cross said.

“Approve it as far as the construction from the outside dining, the restaurant facilities, and hold the rest of it in abeyance. I don’t see how you can do anything else under the existing zoning,” Planning Board member John LaValle said.

Planning Board member Conor Wenk made a motion to approve the application with the understanding the sound design would be split into another review, but Planning Board Vice President Stuart Lipkind said that may open the door for other venues.

“If this goes to a vote and it’s approved, then any venue in the hamlet commercial can do the same thing and you’re going to have two or three, at least, venues with outdoor music without any restriction other than the enforcement ability of the town to come down and measure decibels and bring a proceeding, which I don’t know that they’ve done too much,” Lipkind said. “Why don’t we have them do the demonstration, and we can run it like a test and see how far the music bleeds or doesn’t bleed up, down sideways and so on at different levels, and potentially even bring in our own engineer to monitor it? I’m not comfortable with just giving a carte blanche approval and just turn it over to the noise ordinance. I think we have more power than that. And I think we can do a more hands on intelligent set of standards that would protect the residents of the town against noise intrusion.”

Wenk reiterated his proposal to approve the construction of all non-sound-related equipment. All voted in favor.

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