Reagan Meador’s op-ed piece urges us to embrace a new model for the winery industry. He’s right. All business models, including wineries, are changing, whether through technology or economic necessity. To ensure Southold maintains a healthy economy for years to come, we must be adaptive to these changes and address their needs. The challenge for the community is not how we accommodate these new uses, it’s where should we locate them and how many more can we absorb.
Land use through zoning is a tricky business. Protecting property rights and promoting business needs to be balanced against over-arching public goals such as land preservation or a homeowner’s expectation of quiet enjoyment of their home. The whole purpose of zoning is to draw lines and establish rules that try to balance these sometimes disparate goals. Allowing commercial operations, whether or not they are wineries and whether or not they are “small scale,” anywhere and everywhere, doesn’t help draw the lines, it obliterates them. I disagree with Mr. Meador, who laments what he perceives as the code governing wineries to be outdated and too restrictive. Actually, in many ways, wineries are subject to the most permissive regulations in the code, even more permissive than other types of agricultural operations. Mr. Meador’s suggestions to promote wineries seem more focused on his particular needs and not those of the industry as a whole.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has placed an emphasis on promoting agriculture. This is good for the industry, however, Mr. Cuomo has put a particular emphasis on promoting wineries, breweries and distilleries. The Department of Agriculture and Markets has received its marching orders: coerce towns to strip back their zoning, their regulations and their planning goals to accommodate these new ventures. With a growing interest in establishing these new wineries, breweries and distilleries, Southold Town needs to find a way to accommodate these new operations, whether they are small scale or not. However, we also need to make sure they complement our community and don’t overwhelm it. That may mean standing firm against the state Department of Agriculture. That is done through smart planning and not slick public relations campaigns. The Zoning Board of Appeals is not just considering Mr. Meador’s application to build a winery in his yard, it is ruling on all of the applications that are bound to follow.
Southold is at a crossroads. We need to be flexible to adapt our zoning to new trends. This is essential to making sure we have a robust economy moving forward. Still, we need to make sure that our future economy isn’t built around drinking and entertaining. Once we reach that tipping point, there’s no going back.
supervisor, Southold Town