Red House Fight Continues After Zoning Board Decision
CASSADAGA — The fight to restore the Red House to its status as a viable businesses in Cassadaga is not over. Owners of the popular wedding and event venue, Steve and Nancy Wickmark, attended last week’s village board meeting to check on the outcome of their letter requesting a reconsideration of the recent zoning board decision. That decision effectively denied the Red House a variance which would have allowed the Wickmarks to continue to operate as a business in a residentially zoned area.
The Red House, located on 91 Frisbee Road, is not too far from the Cassadaga Country Club, located on 55 Frisbee Road.
There has since been confirmation by several independent sources that the primary trigger that resulted in the Wickmarks having to go before the ZBA in the first place, were the complaints of neighbors who live up on the hill from the Red House.
While it’s not clear if others were making equivalent complaints, the neighbors on the hill reportedly were upset about the noise coming from the parking area during events. The parking area is a plot of land next to the Red House that the Wickmarks periodically leased from Chautauqua Resources (a corporation affiliated with The Resource Center).
According to The Resource Center, the neighbors on the hill recently purchased that plot of land. As a result, no more parking is allowed on the field next to the Red House.
Since the ZBA ruling, the Wickmarks said they have stopped taking new reservations, but will honor reservations, such as weddings, already made for the summer months. Instead of taking payments as a traditional business transaction, the events will be treated as parties and the participants, the Wickmark’s guests.
The Red House has hosted three such parties as of last week’s village board meeting, drawing the concerned attention of village code enforcement officer Rodney Lind. Lind was also present at the meeting seeking board direction about whether or not he should inspect the Red House for possible code violations.
As Lind was explaining his concerns about occupancy at the Red House, an argument broke out between he and Steve Wickmark, who asked the pointed question, “Who do you work for, the village or Barry?”
Barry is Barry Wilcox, the neighbor on the hill.
“I’m not going to look away just because I’m a friend of Barry’s,” Lind said, arguing that certain code violations are evident just by looking at the property. “I put it out there that I’m a friend of Barry’s, but it’s regardless of that. It’s not right and I can’t just look away. There’s not occupancy. You have to have an inspection and then with that inspection that’s what generates occupancy.”
Trustee Amanda Kalfas attempted to passify the situation, asking Lind if he has reached out to the Wickmarks “to let them know what they need to do? Is that in your realm of responsibility?”
Lind replied that he had been waiting for the ZBA ruling and since then, “I know there’s been events held (at the Red House) over the last three weeks, so… as a building code enforcer, it’s hard to look away.”
“We all have responsibilities with our titles,” Kalfas said and repeated her question: “Have you reached out now that the meeting has been held?”
“I’m reaching out right now,” he answered. “I wanted to see where I stood with the village board as far as letting you know that there’s building code violations that are concerning me that could cause safety issues.”
Steve Wickmark interjected: “You don’t know that there are building code violations.”
Arguing ensued and Kalfas brought order, reminding both Wickmark and Lind to direct all their comments to the board and not to each other.
Lind repeated to the board that there hasn’t been an inspection of the Red House.
“Are you going to inspect every residence in the village that has a party?” Trustee Bill Astry said. Since the Red House can’t operate as a business until further notice, Astry and other trustees asked Lind if it was appropriate to insist on inspecting what essentially is a private residence.
“But if they’re having regular parties every week,” Lind said. “Do you want me to look away?”
“I don’t think the building enforcement officer’s job encompasses private homes … entertaining guests at private homes or inspecting those facilities,” Wickmark countered. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see anywhere within his authority that that would be there.”
Wickmark continued, agreeing that it would be different if he could get his business license back.
“If we open a business I’m certainly willing to have Rod come and do whatever it is he does,” Wickmark said.
“We’re confident that our occupancy levels are sufficient to meet the crowds that we have,” he continued. “I’ve done the estimate. We have an upstairs occupancy of 186 people according to the code. If the tables are down we can almost double that.
“We’ve always operated in a manner that is safe and in compliance with the building codes, even though we’ve never had an inspection. We’ve never been told by the village, either by Rod or his predecessor, what the occupancy was. We took that upon ourselves to set that as a limit.”
Mayor Mary Jo Bauer said that before the board can entertain making any motions on the matter, the village would need to consult with village attorney Bill Duncanson.
“I want to know what our next move is as a board,” Bauer said. “Where is our place in this as a village board? Legally, what are we allowed or not allowed to do?”
Wickmark requested that should the board decide to reconsider rehearing the situation, “I would simply ask that you make sure that your alternate be invited to that meeting so that we have a vote of 5 people instead of 4 who can consider the facts,” he said.
“I respect the work that you’re doing and I appreciate that people have different opinions and sympathies,” he added. “We’re looking for fairness and for the process to work appropriately. We’ve done everything we can do.”
The board ruled to check with attorney Duncanson before any decisions are made with plans for further discussion and action during the next meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, June 20 at 7 p.m.