CHELAN — Karma Vineyards can continue to stage weddings and indoor and outdoor events at its winery overlooking Lake Chelan, as long it does so quietly.
A decision Wednesday by a Chelan County hearings examiner approved the winery’s request for amendments to a conditional use permit first granted in 2005 to allow full food service and gatherings of more than 100 people, including on an outdoor patio situated on land above the winery.
Hearing Examiner Andrew Kottkamp also ruled that winery events could include more than 154 guests as long as no more than 100 people were inside its 3,000-square-foot underground wine cellar at one time and there was an acceptable parking and circulation plan to transport additional guests by limousines, shuttle buses or other mass transit vehicles.
Kottkamp was firm, however, regarding noise levels allowed during the events that include amplified music. Several neighbors near the winery complained about noise and traffic during such events at a hearing March 7.
The ruling could be used as a precedent for conflicts between other wineries and their neighbors in the region. In the last decade, more than 50 new wineries have opened in North Central Washington, including a dozen around Lake Chelan. More than 60 people showed up for the March 7 hearing, most of whom were in support of wine tourism and the Karma Vineyards, which opened its winery in 2006. Several people testified that noise from the winery was minor compared to the summer sounds speedboats, jet skis, float planes, the general tourist ambience and the sounds of ongoing agriculture around the lake.
“Generally we’re very pleased,” said Julie Pittsinger, who owns the winery with her husband Bret. “Everything we have been doing, we can continue doing. We won’t have to cancel the events we’ve already scheduled for the next two years. That’s the main thing.”
Pittsinger said she did have some concerns about Kottkamp’s rulings regarding sound studies and amplified music.
“There’s only one day we have amplified music — Memorial Day. But when we have weddings there are a lot of people sitting out there chatting,” she said. She planned to have an attorney look at the ruling to get a better understanding of what type of sounds would be under scrutiny.
Calls to neighbors who opposed the winery at the hearing were not returned.
Memorial Day is the day the winery hosts a party to celebrate the release of its newest vintage of sparkling wine. The winery is one of few producers in the state of Champagne-style wine fermented and aged in the bottle. The winery has outdoor music that day. Amplified music is sometimes used for wedding parties in the underground wine cellar, but Pittsinger said that can’t be heard outside.
Kottkamp’s ruling states that amplified music is prohibited unless sound studies conducted at the borders of the property can show reading of less than 55 decibels during the day until 10 p.m. and 45 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The sound studies must be made by a sound engineer approved by the county and made at every event this year at which there are more ant 100 guests and/or amplified music.
The volume created by 55 decibels is often compared to the level of normal conversation heard from about 3 feet away. The volumes are the same as was approved in the original conditional use permit. Neighbors say the winery noise is higher than those levels but no studies have so far been made to show that.
Reports from the sound studies must be submitted to the hearing office within a week of each event. Kottkamp will use the information to determine whether additional conditions need to be added to the permit. Nothing prohibits neighbors from conducting their own sound studies as well, Kottkamp wrote, as long as they are also conducted by a qualified, independent sound engineer approved by the county.
Kottkamp also asked that a landscaping plan be submitted for how the winery can better screen neighbors from noise and light. A traffic impact study must also be submitted on how the winery proposes to use transport vehicles to drop off and pick up guests for special events.
A hearing to review compliance with all the conditions will be scheduled for March 2013.
Rick Steigmeyer: 64-7151