Vineyard 48 attorney talks legal challenge against Southold Town

05/18/2012 9:00 AM |

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Southold Police arrive at Vineyard 48 to cite it for illegal outdoor event earlier this month.

The battle between Vineyard 48 and Southold Town over the vineyard’s summer dance parties quietly escalated this week, although no noise or permit summonses were issued last weekend.

Neighbors of the vineyard called Southold Town Police twice on Saturday, but no music was playing when officers arrived, Chief Martin Flatley said Monday.

“It didn’t appear to be an active dance party,” he said. “It didn’t appear to be any different from what takes place at any other winery.”

Town police slapped Vineyard 48 with three violations for excessive noise and for having no special events permit on the weekend of May 5, after the Zoning Board of Appeals had denied their applications to hold events every weekend this month.

The vineyard’s attorney now says the town’s enforcement of its special events law is legally flawed and made reference to a potential lawsuit if the requested permits are not issued.

But Vineyard 48 is receiving no support from the Long Island Farm Bureau, whose director called the vineyard’s activities “a black eye for the Long Island wine industry.”

On May 9, Vineyard 48’s attorney, Patricia Moore of Southold, filed an application for 58 events on Saturdays and Sundays through November of this year. That application was rejected by ZBA Chairwoman Leslie Kanes Weisman on May 11.

In her rejection letter, Ms. Weisman said the only difference between this and the previous application that had been denied was “the description of the nature of the event as ‘possible excess occupancy’ as opposed to ‘DJ dance parties.’ ”

Ms. Weisman said any dance parties held on the site without town approval “will result in termination of the event and the issuance of code violations.”

Ms. Moore could not be reached for comment, but she said in her May 9 submission letter that the ZBA chair “has no independent authority to reject an application.”

She also said there is no basis for the board to reject the application and no criterion in the law that establishes a maximum number of events a winery can have in one year.

She also described accounts of alleged State Liquor Authority infractions at the vineyard as hearsay and said denying the permit request in the interest of the health, safety and welfare of the residents is without any basis in the town code.”

The attorney added that her client plans to take “all legal action necessary to protect its interests and seek compensation for any wrongful damages it may suffer.”

In her response, Ms. Weisman said the town reserves the right to seek an injunction against the vineyard if it continues violating the town code. The Town Board authorized the injunction at its May 8 meeting.

Supervisor Scott Russell said this week that the town is considering legal action.

“If they don’t comply, we’ll seek what judicial review we need to,” he said. “That would not preclude seeking an injunction.”

Mr. Russell also said he plans to involve the Long Island Farm Bureau and the Long Island Wine Council in putting pressure on Vineyard 48.

“Our stance here is not inconsistent with the boards of the Long Island Wine Council and its member wineries and certainly not inconsistent with the goals and objectives of the Long Island Farm Bureau,” said Mr. Russell.

The vineyard is located in the Agricultural Conservation zoning district.

Long Island Wine Council President Ron Goerler declined to comment on Vineyard 48’s business decisions but did say the winery withdrew its longtime membership in the wine council this year. He said he had not yet been contacted by Mr. Russell.

Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela agreed with Mr. Russell.

“The Farm Bureau will not support bad actors. We believe there’s a balance between the right to farm and the right to do business,” he said. “There’s a social responsibility to live within your community. We believe what they’re doing is a black eye for the Long Island wine industry. We take this stuff seriously.

“The Farm Bureau does not support the activities of ‘Club 48,’ ” he added. “They’re going too far.”

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