09/27/13 5:00pm
09/27/2013 5:00 PM

FILE PHOTO | Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue.

When the Southold Zoning Board of Appeals took up winery regulations during a special public hearing Thursday night the discussion wasn’t intended to focus on issued at Vineyard 48.

But that’s what happened.

At the request of the Planning board, the ZBA was asked to evaluate existing codes that define what constitutes a winery.

Specifically, the board was asked to determine if the use of a tasting room as a “dance and, or social club” was permissible  and if a retail cigar shop was an acceptable accessory shop at a vineyard, Planing Board chair Leslie Weisman said.

Both elements have become a common practice Vineyard 48.

The Cutchogue vineyard’s business practices have prompted investigations by both the town and the State Liquor Authority following a host of complaints, including loud music and patrons allegedly wandering onto neighboring properties and having sex in public.

Admittedly, Ms. Weisman said the hearing was prompted by Vineyard 48’s latest site change proposal.

The revised plan includes a new layout for the existing parking area along with the creation of an overflow lot with 100 additional spaces. Additionally, it calls for the construction of a 40-by-100-foot outdoor pavilion with two walls. The pavilion is designed as a permanent structure that would replace the temporary tents, which town officials have said are being used without permits.

But Ms. Weisman insisted the Planning Board’s request for clarification on the current town code did not specifically pertain to the controversial vineyard.

“The Planning Board is prohibited from approving a site plan that is not permitted by code,” she said. “We are not going to revisit [Vineyard 48 concerns.] This isn’t about Vineyard 48. We are here to look at the bigger picture. We are not here to write legislation, we are here to interpret code.”

Still, commenters on both sides of the Vineyard 48 aisle couldn’t get by the elephant in the room.

“I respectfully disagree with the idea that this is ‘town-wide’,” Vineyard 48 attorney Patricia Moore said.  “You can’t separate the two.”

During previous public hearings regarding the amended site plan, Ms. Moore called the town a “bully” for making an example out of Vineyard 48.

Attorney William Moore, Ms. Moore’s husband who also represents Vineyard 48, echoed that sentiment during Thursday’s hearing.

“It’s not a genuine request; it’s a loaded question,” he said. “The planning board laid out the questions for you. What it did in its request was make characterizations [of Vineyard 48] that you are saying are facts. This is an ad hoc way of going about this and it’s not the way it should be done.”

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell has previously said it’s “no secret” the town disapproves of Vineyard 48’s business practices and attempted several times to tame the winery’s operation with legislation.

This summer the town passed a special events law to give the town more control over events held at wineries — most notably at Vineyard 48. A few weeks later the town swiftly passed a parking ban on the North Road near Vineyard 48.

But the legislation has done little to curb the the vineyard’s practices, Horseshoe Lane resident Bill Shipman said.

“It’s been years of torment and town government doesn’t have a set plan,” Mr. Shipman said. “We haven’t been given information and we’re wondering where justice is.”

While Vineyard 48 is in litigation with the State Liquor Authority, it is permitted to remain open — even with an expired liquor license.

As the legal battles remain at a standstill, neighbors of the Cutchogue winery wait in the balance.

They argued Thursday that wineries that operate like Vineyard 48 are not true to the town’s current regulations that wineries should primarily sell products made from grapes grown on site and have a minimum of 10 acres dedicated to vineyards or other agricultural purposes.

“That is not agriculture,” said Laurie Helinski, who lives in the home closest to the vineyard and claims the business is lowering property values. “They’re not there tasting wine, they’re drunk. More wineries are going to be forced to have business practices like this because it’s a cash cow.

“The reputation in Southold is becoming a party town. Families like us are leaving in droves,” she continued. “A dance party is not agriculture. There are a lot of tobacco farms in Virginia. There isn’t one here. A cigar shop is not local agriculture.”

After two hours of discussion, the ZBA closed the hearing without making a decision.

“The majority of vineyards are in favor of an operation that are more family orientated and groups of people that are there to enjoy the winery, the sun and the grapes,” said ZBA member Gerard Goehringer. “Those are the areas I am going to focus on when I make my decision.”

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08/28/13 8:00am
08/28/2013 8:00 AM


BING MAP IMAGE | The town has banned vehicle parking at all times along a half-mile stretch of Route 48 from the western edge of Depot Lane to the eastern edge of a private road known as Road B near Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue.

Southold town swiftly passed a parking ban on the North Road near controversial Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue, immediately after the first public hearing on the law during its regular session Monday night.

Neighboring residents of the winery in the audience who have repeatedly voiced concern to the board whispered a simple “thank you” to members. None participated during the hearing.

Opposing council representing Vineyard 48, who have accused the town of being a “bully,” were not present.

Without public comment, the legislation was approved unanimously.

The proposal comes in response to complaints from Cutchogue residents who say parking on Route 48 in the vicinity of Vineyard 48 has caused undue congestion, while restricting access and maneuverability.

“I’m not complaining,” said Horseshoe drive resident Bill Shipman after the meeting. “The parking restriction is unfortunate. It’s sad the town has to do this because a particular business is doing whatever they want.”

The law prohibits vehicle parking at all times along a half-mile stretch of Route 48 from the western edge of Depot Lane to the eastern edge of a private road known as Road B.

It is “no secret” the town disapproves of Vineyard 48’s business practices, Supervisor Scott Russell said prior to the meeting. The winery has been at the center of complaints regarding loud music and patrons wandering onto neighboring properties to have sex. Excessive traffic and disregard for parking regulations have also caused concern among vineyard neighbors.

Accordingly, the town believes it was necessary to impose parking and standing limitations to protect residents and visitors to the town, restrict the blocking of traffic flow and ensure the orderly use of roads within the town, as the law states.

Vineyard 48 is currently under investigation by both the town and the state liquor authority.

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07/31/13 2:43pm
07/31/2013 2:43 PM

BING MAP IMAGE | The town plans to prohibit vehicle parking at all times along a half-mile stretch of County Route 48 from the western edge of Depot Lane to the eastern edge of a private road known as Road B near Vineyard 48.

In response to the outcry from Cutchogue residents, the town is considering new legislation to prohibit parking on the North Road in the vicinity of controversial Vineyard 48.

On Tuesday, the Town Board scheduled an Aug. 27 public hearing on the parking ban.

It is “no secret” that the town disapproves of Vineyard 48’s business practices, Supervisor Scott Russell said after the meeting. The winery has been at the center of countless complaints, including loud music and patrons wandering onto neighboring properties and having sex in public. Excessive traffic and disregard for parking regulations have also caused concern among vineyard neighbors.

“When you have an operator causing a public safety issue something needs to be done,” Mr. Russell said.

That “something” would be to prohibit vehicle parking at all times along a half-mile stretch of County Route 48 from the western edge of Depot Lane to the eastern edge of a private road known as Road B.

BILL SHIPMAN COURTESY PHOTO | Parking associated with County Route 48 nearest Vineyard 48 has resulted in conditions that impact the public health, safety and welfare in the surrounding community, according to the draft law.

Parking on Route 48 nearest Vineyard 48 has created conditions that affect public health, safety and welfare in the surrounding community, according to the draft law. The board believes these conditions have caused undue congestion, restricted on access and maneuverability and had dangerous traffic impacts, according to the draft law.

Accordingly, the town believes it necessary to impose parking and standing limitations to protect the residents of and visitors to the town, restrict the blocking of traffic flow and ensure the orderly use of roads within the town, according the proposal.

“It’s a continual problem,” Horseshoe Drive resident Bill Shipman said. “I do think it’s sad that you have to put a parking restriction on a particular area because a particular business is doing whatever they want.”

Councilman James Dinizo agreed.

“It is very hard for the town to enforce their rules when people want to just avert them knowing full well that we can’t do anything about it on the spot,” he said. “And then you people end up in the hell you’re in right now.”

The new parking restriction proposal was introduced the same day the board passed a controversial special events law, which came in response to residents’ complaints about such events — most notably at Vineyard 48 — and concern about the town’s options in addressing reported code violations.

The Aug. 27 hearing will start at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

07/02/13 8:00am
07/02/2013 8:00 AM

CLAIRE LEADEN PHOTO | Vineyard 48 owner Matthew Metz responds to the planning board’s questions Monday evening.

Vineyard 48’s owner and his attorney stood before the Southold Town Planning Board Monday to answer questions regarding the business’ controversial operating practices.

Owner Matthew Metz and attorney Patricia Moore told the board and the dozen local residents in attendance that Vineyard 48 is no different than other North Fork vineyards and has become the target of unfair criticism from the town.

“The Town has become a bully,” Ms. Moore said.

Monday marked the second public hearing on the vineyard’s proposed amended site plan, which would create an overflow lot with 100 additional parking spaces.

The revised plan also includes construction of a 40-by-100-foot outdoor pavilion adjoining the tasting room. The pavilion would provide extra seating and picnic tables, and allow for 276 occupants in addition to the 251 currently permitted.

Residents neighboring Vineyard 48 believe the board should not consider the amended site plan, given that the State Liquor Authority is investigating the business. The SLA began looing into the vineyard in April following a laundry list of complaints, including loud music and patrons allegedly wandering onto neighboring properties and having sex in public.

“I don’t understand how doubling the occupancy of this vineyard will make the problem better,” said Horse Shoe Lane resident Denise Lademann.

Last month, a few days after the first public hearing on the issue, Town officials said the winery erected four tents without seeking the required permits — a direct violation of town code.

During the hearing, Ms. Moore responded to the allegations.

“Tent is not the right term, they are canopies,” she said. “Canopies have no sides.” Ms. Moore added that under New York State law the vineyard is within its legal right to place tents or canopies on the premises.

Last month, Town Attorney Martin Finnegan called the placement of the structures a complete disregard of the existing court order and applicable regulations in the town code.

Residents echoed that sentiment Monday.

“It’s easier for them to ask forgiveness than permission,”said Julie Johnson of Horse Shoe Drive.

Despite claims that Vineyard 48 is operating under tighter security and wants to be a good neighbor there has been little change to its controversial operating practices, Horse Shoe Lane resident Bill Shipman said.

“Did you see the pictures from June 3 of people having sex in my neighbor’s yard?” Mr. Shipman asked the board.

“Yes,” board Chairman Donald Wilcenski said.

“Help us,” Mr. Shipman said.

Ms. Moore said the incident was unrelated to the vineyard.

“I know you are tempted to react to [the community’s] pleas,” Ms. Moore said. “The purpose of us going through a site plan review is to address the issues, not rehash the issues.”

After nearly two hours, the board agreed to leave the public record open until July 15.  Emails, letters and calls will be accepted for the record until that date.

The meeting ended with familiar words from the board.

“We hear you,” Mr. Wilcenski said.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Town officials said Vineyard 48 has erected four outdoor tents without applying for permits.