AVON- Nearly 30 people came out to a special Avon Town Board meeting on Thursday to hear the Board’s deliberations on recent orders from New York State to close a large barn owned by Sandy and Bruce Howlett, which they offer as a wedding venue. The State has ordered that the Howletts add a fire-suppressing sprinkler system to the barn’s already extensive safety features.
After attorneys representing both the Howletts and the Town of Avon explained the situation from their points of view and gave suggestions about how to move forward, the Board decided to let attorney James Campbell, representing the Town of Avon, to continue his conversation with the State and set their facts straight about the intended use of the barn, the many safety measures invested in by the Howletts over the past few years, and how little a sprinkler system would improve the barn’s safety and efficiency.
“Hopefully, the State will be receptive and we can come up with a good outcome,” said Town Supervisor for Avon David LeFeber. “The Howletts have certainly shown a willingness to protect health, safety, and welfare.”
After both David Rasmussen, representing the Howletts, and Campbell had a chance to speak, it became clear that there was no argument between the Howletts and the Town. Indeed, many local authorities seem to have rallied to the Howletts’ defense in what appears to be a case of severe misunderstanding by the State.
Jerry Sheppard, Fire Chief for East Avon, said he can see no reason why the barn should be required to install a sprinkler system.
“A sprinkler system is only as good as it’s maintained,” said Sheppard. “It’s a first responder. The sprinkler heads won’t even run at full pressure until we get there, because there’s not enough water pressure out there on rural water. It would be a major, major cost to the Howletts, and we can get a lot more water in there in a few minutes than a sprinkler system could ever do.”
Many of those present stressed that the Howletts fulfilled every requirement the Fire Department or Town asked for, including a wide access road, three large exit doors, and even an outdoor smoking area. There is allegedly no electricity inside, and no open flames. When asked if he had any problem with the building’s safety provisions, Sheppard said simply, “None at all.”
It was repeated several times that it is unusual for the State to get involved in cases of alleged code violations. According to those present, it was Norman Barrett, former Chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals for Avon, who reported the barn to the New York State Division of Buildings and Codes. Normally, the complaint would have been made to Tony Cappello, Avon’s Code Enforcement Officer.
Barrett resigned last week Friday, to be replaced by the current Assistant Chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Mike Stevens.
The Howletts themselves sat through the entire meeting attentively, commenting only once, when asked.
“Any plan we can come up with, any improvements we can make, we’ll move forward,” said Bruce Howlett, “but it is important to certain people that we do move forward.”
Many of those present at the meeting have weddings planned for this summer at the Howletts’ barn.