Wine Industry Speaks Out in Force Against New Special Events Code

Southold Town Board tables a resolution after dozens of people involved in LI Wine Country say that proposed changes to special events legislation are ‘way too broad.’

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.

Click here to view the proposed changes to special events legislation — resolution 2012-461

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Erin Schultz (Editor) May 23, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Amy Azzara Cirincione said on Facebook: "I think Vineyard 48 is to blame for all of this. The other vineyards are being punished because 1 vineyard holds disgraceful events. Oh wait, did I say that out loud?"
Erin Schultz (Editor) May 23, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Amy, I'm calling the noise ordinance police on you if you continue to be so loud
Erin Schultz (Editor) May 23, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Marie Domenici said on Facebook: "Most Vineyards and farms are good neighbors, so we should punish the majority for the sins of a few!"
Erin Schultz (Editor) May 23, 2012 at 09:15 PM
VIn Tirelli said on Facebook: "The REAL vineyards shoud police themselves then. They remain silent and allow the bad ones to force the Towns hand."
Deborah Kusa May 24, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Beware Southold Town, Is this quote from the above report hinting at the future? "Restaurants upstate are encouraged to develop restaurants and events", according to Olsen-Harbich. Let's be conscious of the fact that our North Fork restaurants are having a hard enough time without encouraging additional competition from events with food service etc., in the ag-zone. We must address the hardship that this lack of regulation in the ag-zone relationship has imposed upon existing restaurant properties which are taxed as commercial properties. We must think carefully about how the vineyards have quickly developed into entertainment attractions vs. Southold Town's intent to allow working vineyards to have tasting rooms. After we have done so, established vineyards that operate as true vineyards and their neighbors/residents may think harder about how we should support the Town in it's efforts to maintain its ground if we want to preserve some semblance of what the North Fork was just 15 years ago.
Deborah Kusa May 24, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Correction : "Vineyards upstate are encouraged to develop restaurants and events"
Ron Goerler May 24, 2012 at 04:33 PM
It is hard to believe that people are under the impression that wineries don't pay commercial tax's.It is a fact that we do pay the same as a restaurants do. Where we differ is that we recieve a reduced rate on the ag part that is being used to grow grapes or vegtables or raise sheep.... but all the buildings,unless they are used for storage and are taxed the same. And there is no doubt that we are all struggling and have to pay payroll and tax's and try to make a living.That is why competiton is so important it brings out the best.The buisness all benifit from what is happening out here.
Eric Russell May 24, 2012 at 07:37 PM
We all benefit from a healthy business enviroment and competition. If a winery wants to expand the uses of ag land into things traditionally offered by other businesses, like resturants, then Those businesses should also have access to ag land for the same purpose. Purchase ag land. Sell development rights to a large part of it. Develop the rest.This would be ALOT cheaper then purchasing commerical land[ if you can find it]. It also would have the same benefit. Open space preservation and job creation.Level playing field and benefits for all!
forward thinking May 25, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Richard Olsen-Harbich May 25, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Deborah, I understand your concerns but I think I should clarify my comments here. No one that I know in the local wine industry wants to get into the restaurant business and not for a second am I advocating for that. We are already running vineyards and wineries that take 7 days a week to operate. I brought up the restaurant issue at the town hearing simply to make a point – that the original intent of the NYS Farm Winery law was written to allow for special events and the selling of food to take place at farm wineries, as well as allowing those farm wineries the option to open restaurants and hotels.wine. The reason for this was the original policy makers who developed this legislation knew that the wine business was highly competitive and the margins were slim. I brought this up in light of the new proposal in Southold to further restrict the definition of special events. The fact is Southold is already the most restrictive township in the State with regard to wineries and the overreaching legislation that was proposed clearly needed to be reworked. The specific issues at hand presently should be dealt with directly - excessive noise, inappropriate use of Ag land etc. - but the Town should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. One should also not lose sight of the fact that having some food available for people to sit and enjoy local wines is not only relaxing and fun; it’s the responsible thing to do with regard to alcohol consumption.
Richard Olsen-Harbich May 25, 2012 at 03:26 PM
I think to be fair, one also needs to remember how much business local wineries bring to Southold Town restaurants, hotels and B & B’s. In any given season, local wineries literally direct thousands of customers to local restaurants. People in our tasting room constantly ask about where they can go to lunch and dinner and we’re happy to send them. Winery employees and winemakers love going out to eat and my family and I are frequent customers of local restaurants. Local restaurants are also among some of our best customers, purchasing our wines and promoting our products. It works both ways - we work together and will continue to do so.
Richard Olsen-Harbich May 25, 2012 at 03:28 PM
As far as the tax issue is concerned, wineries pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes – some of the highest tax bills in the Town are from vineyards and wineries. I think most people would be shocked to see what some of these tax bills amount to. The tasting room buildings of any winery in Southold are taxed at the same rate as any other restaurant structure – “commercial properties” if you will. There is no Ag exemption for a building that is making wine and selling out of the same structure – it’s all taxed as a retail sales space. Sure there are tax exemptions on the farmland but I don’t think any restaurant would want the tax burden - as well as the overhead maintenance and agricultural management bill of running a vineyard. I’m sorry Eric – that dog just don’t hunt anymore. I love living in Southold Town and I love my life making wine. I also understand that the growth the wine industry has brought comes with some negatives – more traffic, more noise and sometimes, businesses that are run without the best interests of the public in mind. But let’s not lose sight of all the positives – farmland and open space preservation, environmental improvements to our aquifer and waterways, economic benefits for all of our local businesses and the potential for our children to develop a sustainable life here in the future. I look forward to working together with Southold Town to help us move forward in ways that are positive for all involved.
Tom May 25, 2012 at 03:50 PM
V-48's game has been played before. Trust me, they're not the first to use overly broad vineyard & Ag laws to develop a business model never intended for that industry. Southold should look to Napa County, CA, and review their Ag development and restriction laws. No need to reinvent the wheel. The battle has already been fought, and won, in California. Learn from their efforts, errors, intentions, and results.
Deborah Kusa May 25, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Well said Richard...your quote did scare me though... :( From the general comments, it sounds like the majority is for appropriate restrictions that are recognized by all to benefit residents, taxpayers and businesses ... and the future of a healthy North Fork wine industry...I totally agree! Let's all be safe during this busy holiday weekend!
Eric Russell May 25, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Southold town is not the most restrictive town in New York. Please take a look at Southampton. I am also aware of the the economic interaction between businesses on the North Fork. I have been in the restaurant business here since the late 70's. The issue is that when the Wine industry focus shifted from wholesale to retail. MOST wineries keep the focus on the sale and marketing of the wine, unfortunately some haven't. Another issue is what is appropriate use of Ag. land. All the farms on the North Fork offer similar benefits as the wineries. All farms are not allowed to grill meats, sell beer or have food trucks. A recent Sat. a vineyard with a co of 160 had reservations for 800. Should this not be addressed? The special events committee tried to address some of these things. Richard- wish you were there. No one was thrilled with what was produced but there were no Southold Town wineries there. Who did represent the Southold Wineries were a paid advocate and a Council President who has his winery in Riverhead. As a restaurant owner i do feel a partnership with all local buinesses including wineries. I buy and serve Richard's wine. I just think the terms of a real patnership shouldn't be dictated by on side. There are alot of sides that need to be represented. We also should keep in mind that the laws of zoning should be equal to all and enforced equally, whatever they end up being. Beer on ag land? Food on ag land? OK. Then that goes for all with acess to ag land.
thatgirl May 25, 2012 at 09:43 PM
i cannot reply to richard, so i'll respond to you both here. i see reason in both your points of view. however, to draw comparison to upstate wineries is not necessarily a like-for-like proposition. i think everyone can agree that with the single roadways that connect the north fork vineyards, there's an issue of a limited geography for a maximum of cars. add consumption to that (a tasting room--if it is, indeed, just to taste--is one thing; serving enough wine for customers to compromise themselves is another) and noise from a mass of visitors attracted by certain spots--then residential enjoyment and safety are both compromised, thus taxing resources that address both. it's discouraging to anticipate more drunk driving reports following the coming weekends. as for richard's point below regarding taxes, no doubt the vineyards pay taxes, but to say that restaurants don't carry a similar burden isn't realistic, because their inspection and licensure fees are pretty steep, aside from whatever town laws govern their operations--something with which most vineyards don't have to contend. as a mature adult, i have no interest in the prospect of what's offered at vineyard 48; but it's clear that others want to push the boundaries as to what constitutes an "event," to say nothing of what "tasting room" really means. no doubt careful consideration and definitions for everyone in creating regulations is imperative. trying to do so at the onset of "the season" is rather unfortunate.
Richard Olsen-Harbich May 26, 2012 at 02:20 AM
I appreciate the feedback Eric. I believe we can work together and we do have a meeting with the Town Board next week to begin addressing these issues. I agree there are problems that have to be addressed - but the vineyards that do try to abide by the exisitng town rules shouldn't suffer further regulation. I absolutely agree with you that the zoning laws should be equally enforced. With that in mind, many of us were surprised to learn that other forms of agri-tainment such as farm stands that serve cooked food, host live music and pony rides etc, would be exempt from the proposed new special events zoning legislation - something that seemed truly unequal under the law. In any event, I believe we have a lot more common ground than you think and I look forward to working with you to help make an even brighter future for Southold Town.
Benja Schwartz May 28, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Southold should not be penalizing (or taxing) desirable special events, but we need to figure out how to distinguish undesirable events and act appropriately. The real future of farming is threatened by the ignorant attitude that the right to farm is absolute. Neither Southold Town Agricultural Advisory Committee nor Long Island Wine Counsel are protecting the public interest.


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