Old Lantern, neighbors take steps toward resolving dispute

Old Lantern Inn and Barn owners Roland and Lisa Gaujac will monitor noise levels at summer events at their popular wedding and party venue on Greenbush Road in Charlotte. Photo by Garrett Brown

In an effort to resolve the ongoing noise debate with neighbors, the owners of Charlotte’s Old Lantern Inn and Barn have agreed to install equipment to measure sound levels at events this summer.

The equipment measures low-frequency rates and will be purchased from Top Hat Entertainment, said Lisa Gaujac, who owns the Old Lantern with her husband Roland. The decision to install the system is mentioned in a draft agreement between the Gaujacs and neighbors Adrian and Alison Wolverton. The parties met in mid-June to try to resolve their differences. Currently, the two couples are locked in a legal battle in the Environmental Division of Vermont Superior Court. The Wolvertons moved to Greenbush Road two years ago and live about a quarter-mile away from the Old Lantern. They are contributing $2,000 to the equipment purchase, Gaujac said.

Both sides thought investing in the monitoring device was worthwhile if it could help them solve the dispute. “We thought a $10,000 investment is better than paying a lawyer,” Gaujac said.

In addition, the Wolvertons will offer feedback on any noise and subsequent improvements they notice after five events are held at the Old Lantern this summer. After that period, the Wolvertons are expected to  meet again with the Gaujacs. These steps are just the latest developments in an ongoing confrontation between the popular wedding and banquet venue and neighbors in the residential area nearby on Greenbush Road. As the business has grown in recent years, neighbors have become more vocal about the noise and activity associated with large parties held there.

The property sits on just under 10 acres. The large barn converted into a 4,200-square-foot high-ceilinged banquet hall is licensed to accommodate up to 350 guests, however Gaujac said most weddings there draw about 150 guests.

Despite the neighborhood disagreements, public attention and media coverage, business remains strong at the Old Lantern, Gaujac said.  “This hasn’t forced us to cut back on weddings,” she said. “We want our (clients) to still have options whether they book a band or a D.J.”

The Wolvertons made their concerns regarding the Old Lantern known in 2015 when they appealed then-Charlotte Zoning Administrator Jeanne McCrumb’s ruling that changes to the facility’s kitchen didn’t constitute a change of use for the property. The Wolvertons emphasized that by upgrading the kitchen enabling all food be cooked on site, the Gaujacs turned the hall into an entity more like a restaurant than an event hall. The Wolvertons also complained about smoke coming from steaks “burning” at the Old Lantern and wafting into their house.

The town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment upheld McCrumb’s decision, and the Wolvertons appealed to the Environmental Division of Vermont Superior Court. Judge Thomas Durkin is reviewing the case and there is no timeline for when he will issue a decision.

Presumably, the parties could reach a settlement before the court rules. Lawyers for both the Gaujacs and the Wolvertons didn’t want to discuss details. Lawyer James Dumont, who represents the Wolvertons, confirmed that his clients and the Gaujacs were speaking to each other but he was cautious about discussing any proposed settlement.  Any final resolution must be approved by the two attorneys and their respective clients and until that occurs, the “Environmental Court’s proceedings continue.” Liam Murphy, representing the Gaujacs, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Wolvertons aren’t the only neighbors to criticize the Old Lantern. Justin and Maura Wygmans as well as Karen and Michael Frost are other vocal critics. Justin Wygmans said he was unaware of any potential agreement between the Wolvertons and the Gaujacs and he declined to comment further on anything related to the event hall.  Karen Frost also was unaware of any new developments. “We’re encouraged there might be progress,” Frost said. “We’ve always felt there were measures to be taken and that this was a solvable thing.”

In addition to the court proceedings, the Gaujacs last year spearheaded a petition to request that town officials alter municipal regulations to clearly allow an event hall on their land. In March, before a standing-room-only crowd, the Select Board voted to send a proposed municipal bylaw amendment to the Planning Commission for retooling.

Town Planner Daryl Benoit said although the commission needs to address the issue, the panel hasn’t started to work on the proposed bylaw. “There’s no formal schedule. It’s not on their immediate agenda,” he said.

As proposed, the zoning change is specific to Charlotte’s West Village district where the Old Lantern is.   The draft wording would allow for “an event facility in existence and operating as of Jan. 1, 2016, to have its use allowed by right.”

Town Administrator Dean Bloch said it wasn’t clear whether planners will keep their focus that narrow or whether they will take a broader view to consider regulations that could apply to future proposals for similar development. Bloch said he expects the Old Lantern will not be the last venue looking to host weddings and parties in Charlotte in the future.

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