Equal Time: Work with, not against, the vineyard

10/06/2011 4:00 AM |

After reading the debate of the Sherwood House Vineyards in the paper, I feel compelled to write my point of view as a concerned citizen and neighbor.

The dispute isn’t whether or not Sherwood House sold their development rights. They did sell their rights, to ensure future preservation and to protect the land so generation after generation can enjoy the majestic countryside that enticed all of us here in the first place.

Seems to me the town got a major bargain paying $8,068 an acre for the development rights to land now going for $75,000 an acre, but that’s beside the point.

The vineyard owners did what they thought is right and I applaud them and the many other landowners who have taken the same course.

Thereafter Sherwood House opened a small tasting room on their property, which they deemed to be within the guidelines of what is allowed. At the time there was no concern that open-air wine tasting was prohibited and to this day similar activities take place on preserved land, whether it’s a hospital fundraiser, greenhouses that cover up to 30 percent, or U-pick activities. The list goes on.

What’s not clear to me, and many others, is how these permitted activities are different and how that’s determined.

Nonetheless, what has not been stated by the Land Preservation Committee and other letters to the editor and an editorial is that Sherwood House is willing to move their open-air site to non-preserved property.

In their defense, I’d like to state what the facts are here.

In their letter, the Planning Board members do not say they’re refusing to review the Sherwood House site plan, which is required before the vineyard can relocate its open-air venue. I’ve talked to so many people I know, who indicate board review can take years. In fact, some businesses cannot survive the duration and ultimately have to close. Some businesses were in years of dispute, but the site plan reviews continued.

Sherwood House spent a lot of money creating plans for a site that has no building on it, but the Planning Board stopped the review and refuses to continue. It’s not the board’s role to be an impediment for existing businesses to relocate. It’s their job to review site plans.

The farming community and agritourism, which includes wineries, have preserved agriculture, not the Planning Board or the Land Preservation Committee. The taxpayers paid for farming to continue on the North Fork, and that includes agritourism. The Planning Board needs to play fair on this one, not hunt them down like prey.

Sherwood House respects the town’s interpretation of the law, but is still counting on it to do the right thing and proceed with their permit to move their site to non-preserved property.

How hard is this?

The Smithens established Sherwood House Vineyards in 1996 with their first harvest about four years thereafter.

The winery was built out of their love and passion for the land and for fine wine. A dream come true.

Twenty years prior to that they established their roots in the North Fork and have since called it home. The business not only supports them, it hires many employees throughout the year, thereby stimulating the local economy.

They are taxpayers. They support every aspect of this community, every day.

They continue to invest tens of thousands of dollars that they don’t have, but nothing is satisfying these critics. They are not building a 200-room hotel. They are putting out some picnic tables to try to make a living. What is the opposition here? It’s doing nothing but making a mockery out of the process.

How about this? How about continuing the site plan review so these humble people can make a living and stop spending my tax money on attorneys going after these model citizens, colleagues and friends?

What a novelty.

Ms. Benway is a Mattituck resident who resides near Sherwood House Vineyards.