After years of complaints from local residents, a back-and-forth with town leaders and even a lawsuit submitted against it on the town’s behalf, Vineyard 48 had its liquor license revoked by the State Liquor Authority on Tuesday.
The embattled location was one of over 100 sites on Tuesday’s SLA meeting agenda, and SLA spokesman Bill Crowley confirmed that the Cutchogue winery did not earn a favorable ruling, but said he was unable to immediately provide additional information.
Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley, along with four neighbors of Vineyard 48, testified before the SLA Board during its meeting at the authority’s office in Harlem Tuesday.
Mr. Flatley said there had been an offer on the table before the hearings began earlier this year that would have had Vineyard 48’s license temporarily suspended in addition to a monetary fine.
Vineyard 48 turned down that offer in favor of a full hearing, he said.
Chief Flatley said he was surprised the SLA revoked Vineyard 48’s license outright, adding that other hearings before the board on Tuesday resulted in fines or suspensions.
“I’m satisfied, definitely,” he said. “I know the neighbors are happy.”
After much discussion over Vineyard 48 in recent months, Supervisor Scott Russell said that he’s sure neighbors won’t have to take to town hall again to complain over similar circumstances.
“It is our sincere belief that we’re not going to let this happen again,” the supervisor said.
An employee at the vineyard declined to comment on the issue on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s news was the second blow to Vineyard 48 in as many days — though Monday’s news could now be considered moot.
On Monday, Vineyard 48 was granted Planning Board approval for an amended site plan after months of debate, though the winery must meet an extensive set of conditions starting immediately — including measures to limit noise levels and overcrowding — in order to comply with the approval.
In addition, according to a resolution adopted by Planning Board members Monday, the winery’s March request for a 40-by-100 foot outdoor pavilion, as well as the creation of an overflow parking lot with 100 additional spaces, have both been refused.
According to Planning Department director Heather Lanza, the conditions were laid out “in an effort to ensure that the site is operated safely, and at a level that is compatible with the neighboring residences.”
The Planning Board’s adopted resolution, which went into effect Tuesday, states that the winery must cease operations at its standalone cigar store, per a November decision from the Zoning Board of Appeals; the town hired special counsel on Tuesday to defend itself on the merits of that decision.
Additionally, all vehicles — including buses and limousines — are now required to remain on-site with passengers. Instead of a parking lot with 100 spaces, the winery will get 35 spots: 23 standard spaces, six spaces for stretch limos and six more for buses.
Ms. Lanza said in phone conversation on Tuesday that the approval “was almost like a denial, but it wasn’t because we wanted to make some headway on the whole thing. We didn’t want to be left nowhere.” Despite the conditions the vineyard must meet, Ms. Lanza said the planning board did grant the applicant the limo and bus parking spaces.
Debate over activities taking place at the vineyard is nothing new.
In April, the State Liquor Authority began investigating the winery after a long list of residents complained of loud music and other disturbances.
Southold Town has also taken legal action against the vineyard, citing violations against its previously approved site plan, including exceeding maximum occupancy. In addition, the town passed parking restrictions in August on Route 48 near the vineyard.
And while the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals has been asked to look into the definition of a “winery’” this year, no mention of Vineyard 48 specifically has been central to the conversation. Though a request to determine whether a “dance or social club” and a retail cigar shop were permissible seemed to be specific to the vineyard, even according to Vineyard 48 attorney Patricia Moore of Southold.
Two public hearings regarding the winery’s amended site plan were well-attended this summer by Cutchogue residents, many of whom told the planning board the loud music and lewd behavior of the winery’s patrons is destroying their quality of life.
Vineyard 48 owner Matthew Metz has refuted those accusations and called the town a “bully,” saying his business is being unfairly targeted by the town.
During a Dec. 2 Planning Board work session, Ms. Moore — who did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday — expressed her frustration with the town, noting that personnel changes at the vineyard have improved the state of affairs, and have not been taken into account by town leaders.
“You know from observing this year’s management style that my client has new management,” Ms. Moore said earlier this month. “He’s been very active in trying to control everything, and quite frankly, it feels like every time we try to come in [here] in good faith to resolve the problems of the past, they’re being rehashed.”
While Monday’s resolution takes effect Tuesday, Ms. Lanza said the vineyard would be given some leeway to comply with the new conditions.
“Typically in any enforcement action, the landowner is given time to rectify the situation before an actual code violation is issued,” she said via email. “In other words, they would get a warning first if they are doing something that isn’t complying with the conditions.”