Owner of Southold Farm + Cellar proposes compromise at final ZBA hearing

12/03/2015 6:54 PM |

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An owner of Southold Farm + Cellar — whose business has been in limbo for months after his family closed it voluntarily and then opened back up on a limited schedule not long after — told town officials he would accept certain restrictions on his small winery as part of any approval to reopen given by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The ZBA heard arguments Thursday from owner Regan Meador and his attorney, Patricia Moore, in the final scheduled discussion on Southold Farm + Cellar. The business voluntarily closed in July at the town’s request for operating without the proper permits before reopening on weekends in the fall.

The board will now deliberate and render a decision on an appeal for variances from the town code within 62 days, per town law.

“This poor guy has already been through enough,” Ms. Moore told the board. “Whatever it takes for you guys to come to a decision, I hope it will be a fair one. He’s prepared to live by the restrictions of what one would expect as a home office.”

Mr. Meador suggested three conditions attached to any variances granted: no buses or limousines allowed on his property, no special events such as weddings, and a hard number limiting the number of occupants to the number of available parking spots. (He indicated he already limits party sizes to six guests or fewer.)

Those conditions would likely come in the form of covenants, which are restrictions placed on the land itself to ensure consistency if the property changes hands.

Mr. Meador is currently seeking two variances for his property to be exempt from code violations. The first would allow him to build a processing storage building 60 feet from Old North Road rather than the required 100 feet. The second would grant him relief from the “bulk schedule,” thereby allowing his house and his winery to exist within the same two-acre subdivision of his property.

In her arguments, Ms. Moore mentioned several other properties that she said have received town approval for similar projects, including 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue, which processes cheese on the same plot where there is a residential dwelling.

She called the disconnect between those past approvals and Southold Farm + Cellar “an equal-protection problem.”

“It is outrageous that on the smallest of farmers in town, the smallest of the wineries, you’re imposing a restriction intended specifically to try to impede this business,” she said.

Similar to past meetings, community members spoke supporting the Meadors, both praising their character and also commenting on the importance of their wines. ZBA Chairperson Leslie Weisman reminded the audience that the board will consider the application itself, not the nature of the applicant.

“The law doesn’t allow us to personalize the person,” she said. “We have to look at the land and its impact on the community and what reasonable property rights are there.”

Allison Latham, who lives across from the Meadors on Old North Road, said she does not support granting variances for fear that a new owner would not honor any commitment to, say, forbidding limousines.

“Our concern is: what happens down the road?” she said. “If you don’t apply the bulk schedule in this instance, then that would mean that a farmer who is growing potatoes could build a large building, a 40-by-90 building, to make potato chips, or that a tomato farmer could build a large building on a site where there’s already a house and make tomato sauce. I don’t think it’s proper to intensify the use of a property in that manner.”

Ms. Latham stressed that she does not want Southold Farm + Cellar to go out of business, but merely to choose a different location.

The Meadors have argued for months that they need to operate their winery on their home property due to their business model, which focuses on high-quality, small-batch wines made with special techniques. Mr. Meador reiterated Thursday that he could not process his wines at a processing center or another winery due to space and cost concerns.

“[My process] requires me to do a whole lot of separate little lots, and that causes an issue,” he said. “I don’t have really any other options at this point.”

Photo caption: On Thursday, Southold Farm + Cellar owner Regan Meador proposed certain restrictions on use of his small winery as a potential solution with the Zoning Board of Appeals. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

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