Owners of Stone Pillar Vineyard & Winery in Olathe are breathing a sigh of relief. The family-owned establishment learned it can continue hosting concerts and events at its winery for another two years despite neighbors’ complaints.
The Olathe City Council this week approved a two-year special use permit for events and entertainment at the family-owned establishment at 11000 S. Woodland Road. It was a compromise reached at the council meeting late Tuesday evening. The Hoff family, who owns the winery, sought a three- or five-year permit while city staff recommended the council approve another one-year permit.
Renewal of the special use permit was uncertain due to noise complaints and building code violations that have plagued the winery since 2012. Before reaching the decision, the council took remarks about the noise complaints from the Hoff family, winery supporters and city staff for an hour.
They got an earful.
Four members of the Hoff family, led by their attorney Michael K. McVey, appeared before the council one by one to express their frustration with what they described as exaggerated noise complaints, the time-consuming annual process of renewing their permit and unfair restrictions within the special-use permit, like the ban on the use of sound amplification on weekends.
“I’m 72 years old,” Tom Hoff said. “I’m up here asking for a special-use permit every year probably for the rest of my life. We are not harassing people. We are not being loud intentionally. We provide jobs, tax revenue and family entertainment.”
He added, “This is a meeting hall that’s larger than ours. I would like for you to turn off your microphones and carry on the rest of this meeting with no amplification. How many can talk loud enough so everyone can hear? That’s the restriction you are putting on us.”
City staff received 166 emails and messages of support for the winery. No opponents against the special-use permit appeared at the meeting.
The city first granted the winery a three-year special-use permit to allow live bands in March 2012. After the winery accumulated noise complaints and building code violations, the city reviewed the special-use permit and allowed a one-year permit beginning in 2015 with several stipulations.
Concerts with amplified music were allowed only on Fridays until 10 p.m. Non-amplified, acoustic music was allowed on Saturdays and Sundays. Speaker locations were restricted and had to be placed away from the homes to the north. Video recordings of decibel readings were required to be taken at the north property line during each concert and the data provided to city staff. The decibel readings had to be below 55 decibels, which is required by the Olathe Municipal Code. The Olathe Police Department also monitored sound levels at the winery.
In addition, the stipulations stated that buildings on-site comply with fire department regulations and building codes. The fire and building codes departments had worked with the Hoff family to correct violations after the family converted an open shelter into an enclosed banquet hall with a capacity of 99 people.
Officials from the fire and building codes departments visited the winery and reported that all violations on the property are resolved and the winery is up to code.
City staff said the majority of the decibel readings during concerts on the property were below 55 decibels. At contention during the meeting were a variety of noise complaints and incidents when the rules set by the council had not been met.
There were three to four noise complaints from neighbors and a few occasions where the decibel limit was exceeded during the winery’s summer concerts last year. The highest decibel spike recorded was 58.5. There also were three concerts when the music did not end at 10 p.m. as required. The latest recorded stop time was 10:08 p.m. The Olathe Police Department also observed sound amplification used on Saturday nights when musicians placed microphones near their acoustic instruments.
Councilman Jim Randall was the most outspoken about the winery’s infractions. Randall pushed for installing a sound recorder on the property to independently monitor sound. He said the city wasn’t trying to be oppressive but that the winery had continued to break the rules and he was unhappy with the amount of taxpayer money spent on the issue.
“If the client would like a five-year permit, then why didn’t they stay within the regulations?” Randall said. “The applicant went back and violated several of those rules, not once, not twice, three times or more.”
About the noise levels, George Hoff said, “I thought we did a good job of maintaining the sound.” He added, “We’d like the opportunity to be able to grow our business. We would like to recoup some of the costs from investing in becoming compliant.”
An estimated 20 percent of the winery’s profits come from live music performed at the venue. George Hoff said the time-consuming process of applying for a permit annually was difficult when he and his wife, Brandi Hoff, are already stretched thin handling most of the winery’s workload. In addition, it’s difficult to schedule bands and events several months in advance when they didn’t know if they would have a permit six months down the road.
Brandi Hoff said unfair limitations within the special-use permit were limiting the business they could bring in. The winery wanted to host more weddings, but had to turn away events since they couldn’t accommodate microphones for ceremonies and receptions or DJs with sound equipment.
Councilman Larry Campbell argued that the city had been unfair to the Hoffs.
“I feel like we’ve erred on the side of caution and respect for the neighbors in this area. But I also feel like the Hoffs have done a tremendous job of doing what we’ve asked for,” Campbell said. “Part of our issue is that we’ve set unrealistic standards.”
Campbell listed several examples of decibel levels for everyday situations. Light traffic, for example, is 50 decibels and conversational speech is 60 decibels. He said it was unrealistic to require the Hoffs to stay below 55 decibels. City staff also reported that many times traffic and wind registered louder on the decibel recorder than events on the property.
As for going over the 10 p.m. time limit, Campbell said, “Our Olathe concert series has gone over that time period several times right there in the neighborhood. To hold them to a standard of perfection just is not realistic. I don’t think we hold that to any of our other special use permits; they have leeway and some grace. The city is not perfect on stuff and I don’t know any others that have come nearly perfect that we’ve pulled the plug on.”
Councilwoman Marge Vogt recommended the city compromise with a two-year permit, which the council approved in a 7-0 vote. The city also removed the restriction on sound amplification within the winery’s banquet hall on weekends.
The Hoff family was pleased after the decision.
“Two years is better than nothing. We’re happy to still be in business and we’re going to do our best to have no violations,” Brandi Hoff said.