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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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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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