Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 11, 2013

Rocking banquet facility roils neighbors

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Frank Noverr hosted one too many “whopper” parties at his farm, at least in the minds of his neighbors on south Lake Leelanau.

Elmwood Township officials received 22 written complaints from Noverr’s neighbors about the way he uses his property on Lakeview Road for wedding receptions and parties. Neighbors said noise and traffic from guests and delivery trucks at Noverr’s Leelanau Farms and Vineyards are unsuitable and unsafe for their residential neighborhood.

“The traffic is terrible, the noise is worse, and we also have firecrackers going off in blooming constellations,” said neighborhood resident Susan Lamb. “The trucks coming in to cater it are racing up and down our road.”

Julie Gentile lives a half-mile down the road and said she heard noise aplenty during a June 22 event.

“That party was a whopper, Gentile said.

Township officials issued Noverr a cease-and-desist order. Supervisor Jack Kelly said he asked the township’s attorney to obtain a court injunction to keep Noverr from hosting additional events on his 27-acre farm atop a ridge with commanding vistas of southern Lake Leelanau.

Banquet facilities are not allowed in the township’s agricultural or residential zones, Kelly said.

Kelly said he hasn’t spoken to Noverr about his banquet facility and he expects lawyers for both sides to dominate whatever conversations occur.

“We will not stand down,” Kelly said. “This business will be shut down, eventually.”

Noverr owned NPI, which published telephone directories and weekly advertising papers. He sold his publishing businesses in the 1990s after founding NPI Wireless, one of the area’s first cell phone companies which he also sold.

A message left for Noverr was not returned. His daughter, who takes bookings for his banquets, declined comment. Several messages left with Noverr’s attorney, Matthew Vermetten, were not returned.

Kelly said Noverr’s banquet business appears to have operated for at least a year without township knowledge.

Bob Pacer lives below Leelanau Farms and Vineyards and said neighbors last year decided to cut Noverr some slack because he assured them he’d host no more than three or four events a year.

But Pacer said Noverr recently cleared hundreds of trees to create new pastures and vineyards, an effort that eliminated a natural sound buffer for the neighbors. A website that advertises Noverr’s barn and grounds for events -- plus a new parking lot -- raised additional concerns among neighbors.

“If he’s putting all that time and money into it, it’s not going to be just three or four events a year,” Pacer said.

Pacer termed attempts by neighbors to speak with Noverr about their concerns “unsuccessful encounters.”

Lamb isn’t assured by Kelly’s promise that the township will shutter Noverr’s business. The township’s proposed rewrite of the zoning ordinance would allow the use of barns for banquet facilities with a special use permit.

The practice has been a growing phenomena as a means to aid farmers. Acme Township amended its zoning ordinance last year to allow local attorney Bob Garvey to rent out his renovated historic barn for such events.

Acme Supervisor Jay Zollenger said he’s heard no complaints about Garvey’s barn, and said that’s usually the case when the owner follows rules.

Pacer said Noverr’s neighbors might be more understanding if events were limited to the barn because noise would be kept inside. But Noverr also allows outdoor events in huge, circus-sized tents. Noise from the tented event rolls down the ridge unimpeded to neighbors, he said.

“The decible level of the music and crowd was incredible,” Pacer said of a recent event. “It was rocking, it was loud, and is that really appropriate in a neighborhood environment.”