BEULAH — A court’s take on three hard-to-define words — “noise,” “reasonable” and “normal” — could decide whether St. Ambrose Cellars violated a sound ordinance, or if owner Kirk Jones is being personally targeted by a Homestead Township official.
Jones received a ticket last month at his Pioneer Road brewery for violating the township’s noise ordinance.
After four years of what he called tension with his neighbor, Township Treasurer Karen Mallon, the winemaker said he is taking his case to 85th District Court.
“By challenging the ticket, we’re challenging the basic precepts of the ordinance,” Jones said. “It was written behind closed doors and the wording is arbitrary.”
The noise ordinance, passed unanimously by trustees August 6, 2018, states:
“Between the hours of 8:00 PM and 8:00 AM, no person shall engage in conduct which produces a noise or sound which annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety or any reasonable person of normal sensitivities.”
Jones said he has retained attorney Jesse Williams. A court date to hear his appeal is scheduled Dec. 9.
Earlier this year, Jones created a public Facebook page, “Homestead Township Political Action Forum,” to inform residents about his difficulties and to discuss township board decisions and decision-making, he said.
Jones said he is out thousands of dollars after two wedding bookings were canceled, and two more couples he’d been in discussions with decided to hold their weddings elsewhere.
All referenced the ongoing conflict between St. Ambrose Cellars and township officials, he said.
At the Oct. 7 township board meeting, Trustee Mary Geetings proposed the board hire “someone completely removed from any of this, to review all the documents and settle this matter,” according to meeting minutes.
The day of the ticket, St. Ambrose Cellars hosted a wedding reception inside a barn on the winery’s property, Jones said. There was a live music and Jones said the weather was bad — sleet and rain — so the doors of the barn were closed.
Because of past noise complaints made by Mallon and another neighbor, Karen Kamp, Jones said he uses an app on his phone — DBXpro — to take regular decibel readings. The app also documents the time and GPS location of the readings.
Jones contends the complaints are meant as personal attacks on him and his business, and said he hopes to prove that in court by using the readings as evidence.
The night of the wedding, Jones said he grabbed his phone and drove around the border of his property, and along LeYa Lane, near where Mallon and Kamp live.
He said his reading was 39 decibels.
IAC Acoustics, an Illinois-based industrial sound engineering firm that publishes baseline decibel readings for a variety of common sounds, puts background noise at a library at 40 decibels. A Jet engine is 150 decibels on takeoff; one person breathing is 10 decibels.
Someone in the Kamp home wrote down Jones’ license plate number, called police and two deputies from the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office responded.
Jones said he showed them the reading on his phone.
“See?” he says he told the officers. “This is what I’m dealing with. Crickets are louder than this. Crickets can be 44 decibels.”
While Jones was talking with the officers, back at St. Ambrose Homestead Township Ordinance Enforcement Officer, John Brazaski, wrote him the ticket.
“He’s actually a really nice guy,” Jones said. “Very likable. But I want to know what’s going on. I feel like Karen Mallon has been an existential threat to my business. She keeps gaslighting us. And we’re building a case. ”
Mallon, Geetings and Township Supervisor, John Hancock, did not return calls for comment.
Mallon has previously told the Record-Eagle she is only enforcing the ordinance, not making personal attacks against Jones or his business.
The next Homestead Township Board of Trustees meeting is Dec. 2, 6 p.m., at the Homestead Township Hall, 11508 Honor Highway (US-31) in Honor.