To many working in the North Fork Wine industry, the text in proposed changes to a law regarding special events regulations in are simply flawed.
About 25 people spoke out against the proposed change at a Southold Town Board public hearing Tuesday afternoon. According to Town Attorney Martin Finnegan the changes the code committee had worked on over the last few weeks are not “meant to police or regulate every event ever contemplated,” he told board members during a work session earlier that day.
“We’re focusing on events that will exceed lawful use and have impacts on the community,” Finnegan said. “Some sites have bigger capacity for bigger events.”
At the 4:30 p.m. hearing, people like Steve Bate, executive director of the said that the code is “too sweeping” and he and others have problems with what they felt are “exorbitant” permit fees.
“Permitted use should rely upon an updated understanding of what wineries are allowed to do in the course of normal business practices,” he said. “I believe this code discriminates against smaller businesses and undermines their viability. We want to limit this application to the peace and safety of the public welfare.”
The proposed code changes came about after Southold Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals Chairwoman Leslie Weisman approached the Southold Town Board in February about to evolve with “creative marketing strategies” that various business people are trying to put in place on the North Fork.
Southold Town’s special event permit currently only addresses issues associated with single, stand-alone events — like the held for the past two summers on the grounds ofTown zoning inspector Damon Rallis said in an earlier interview with Patch that the town didn’t anticipate a winery such as hosting recurring events such as weekend DJ dance parties.
Instead of changing code, Bate suggested that the town require a seasonal permit for vineyards such as 48 who want to take on something like what they are doing. A special event permit fee is $250 under the proposed new code.
“The permit fee structures need to reflect current economic reality,” Bate said. “And … events need promotion to have any chance of success — the approval process you’re suggesting is 60 days, but if the event is not approved until 10 days before the event, that’s not enough time to do the right thing.”
Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, expressed his thought that the code was too sweeping in a different way.
“My mama used to say, ‘Don’t get the hammer out when there’s a fly on papa’s head,’” he said. “I appreciate that the board is trying to come up with some sort of mechanism to deal noise control and outlandish behavior, but my greater concern is that this is a job-breaking proposal. We have to have something to protect the citizens of the town but we can’t hurt the industry either.”
Longtime North Fork grape grower agreed and said that the board should give the at least a year before changing code.
“We haven’t even given it a shot yet — let’s do that and go back to the table with this law,” he said.
Mudd was also one of many at the hearing to be concerned about wineries in particular being “under the microscope” in regards to special events regulations, while farms and special districts are exempt, though many fire department representatives said at the hearing they believed they should remain exempt.
winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich said that the proposed law is trying to pinpoint something specific, “but trying to do it with a paint roller.”
“And you wonder why young business people who want to try something different run away from here,” he said. “Vineyards upstate are encouraged to develop restaurants and events on site — they bend over backward for that kind of economic development. Why are we trying to limit that, especially in this economic climate?”
After hearing several more speakers make similar points, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said that he and board and committee members have “not developed this law in a vacuum,” and that he has been seeking the kind of input that he got at the public hearing for two years now.
Councilman Al Krupski, said that he and the board were definitely not “anti-agriculture” in drafting this proposal.
“But one size will never fit all,” he said. “This proposal does not apply to weddings or events planned within the capacity of a site plan — it applies when someone plans something above and beyond.”
The Town Board voted unanimously to table the resolution.
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