Equal Time: Why proposed moratorium is necessary now

11/23/2016 5:50 AM |

You would think, based on public reaction, that the local winery, brewery and distillery industries are under assault because of the limited-time moratorium I recently suggested.

I agree that there are some pending applications that have been so thoroughly reviewed at this point that the town would be operating in bad faith if it were to stop them now, but there is more to this issue.

The winery industry has changed a lot over the years since the code was created. It’s still changing.

Originally, most wineries were a similar model: large farms with a large building and everything a winery needs on site; equipment to produce and bottle the wine and a tasting room to sell it. Usually, they were on one of Southold’s two major roads, needing the visibility to attract consumers. They required a substantial investment that few could make.

Now, custom crush facilities and other businesses allow a winemaker to produce wine on much less land and in a smaller building. In addition, social media ensures that people will find you whether your business is on a major road or not.

As a result, we see more and more wineries being built closer and closer to residential communities. Couple this with the fact that many of these aren’t wineries but tasting rooms, which aren’t permitted by code, and we have a problem that won’t fix itself.

We need to be candid about this issue. The fact is, several wineries that are operating today are in violation of the existing code despite being wonderful operations that should be allowed by the code.

I’m not so sure some winery owners even know what the code permits. I am quite sure that the public doesn’t.

We can use some guidance here in Town Hall, too. Two recent applications to the Zoning Board of Appeals were the focus of tremendous community attention. Each resulted in very different answers.

When an application for a winery becomes a flash point in the community, it doesn’t serve the needs of the industry or of the community.

I suppose we can quickly pass some code amendments that will “fix” the problem, but that may have profound impacts over time on our community. If we are not proactive, we are bound to see more and more conflict as the industry continues to evolve.

We simply can’t afford to ignore it.

Adding to this challenge is the growing interest in breweries and distilleries. Should we allow them on farmland? The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets says we should.

The cumulative impacts of all these growing industries needs to be given careful consideration and a plan needs to be created to deal with them. Can we address these issues trying to solve one problem at a time? That won’t work. It hasn’t worked.

Greg Doroski, in a column on these very pages, said my call for a moratorium shows no vision. Fair point.

So let’s work in a collaborative effort to create a plan that will serve us into the future.

Mr. Doroski also recently said there’s a struggle to define the identity of Southold and that “it tends to ebb and flow with the tide of seasonal traffic as “we” get “our” town back.

He conjures images of a community made up of close-minded clods who don’t know who we are and seem more interested in making a left onto the Main Road than embracing vital industries. I disagree.

Southold has an identity and it’s one we should all be proud of. Let’s be sure we put a plan in place now before we don’t recognize ourselves anymore.

T110311_Russell_CThe author is the supervisor of the Town of Southold.

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