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11/13/17 6:00am
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The Southold Town Board set a public hearing on a code change that would further define what requirement a winery in town has to meet.

The suggested language includes defining a winery as a place where wine is “produced, processed and sold” and calls for 80 percent of the wineries’ grapes to be grown on the premises or other land owned by the winery owner.

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10/16/13 4:19pm
10/16/2013 4:19 PM
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Town board candidates debate winery regulation and deer management during Tuesday's forum.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Town board candidates debate winery regulation and deer management during Tuesday’s forum.

Town finances, winery regulations and deer management were among the issues discussed at a Southold Town Board candidates forum sponsored by The Suffolk Times and hosted at Peconic Landing in Greenport Tuesday night.

Democratic challengers Mary Eisenstein and Ron Rothman asked voters to elect a different voice to the all-Republican board, while incumbent Town Board member Jim Dinizio, a registered Conservative, and Republican challenger and current town Trustee Bob Ghosio touted their experience and working knowledge of the issues facing Southold.

Here’s what the candidates had to say about the issues:

DEER MANAGEMENT

When it comes to Southold Town’s current deer management plan, Democratic hopefuls said there is none.

Mary Eisenstein, who has been diagnosed with Lyme disease four times during her 21 years on the North Fork, said the Town Board hasn’t been working hard enough to lobby Albany for more effective means of controlling the deer population.

“If I’m on the board, the first thing I’m doing is getting a busload of people to go to Albany,” she said.

The Republican candidates agreed deer management is a major issue in Southold Town. Mr. Ghosio pointed to Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) for letting legislation that would relax hunting regulations in Suffolk County and across the state to stall in committee.

“The problem is we are ready to address it, but the state is not,” Mr. Ghosio said. He believes when the North Fork’s vacant state Assembly seat is filled in November, Southold’s deer management issue will be better represented and more progress will be made. All the candidates said they would support Republican Town Supervisor Scott Russell’s proposal to allocate $75,000 in the 2014 town budget toward deer management.

TOWN FINANCES

Every candidate spoke in favor of Mr. Russell’s proposed budget for 2013-14 and supported the way the town manages its finances.

The proposed $41.6 million 2014 spending plan includes a 1 percent spending increase over the current year and would result in a 1.17 percent tax hike.

Mr. Dinizio said the town does a good job of limiting expenses and spending wisely, citing the Town Board’s recent authorization of a $3.5 million bond for construction improvements to the town’s highway facility. The proposed upgrades include demolition of existing fuel storage tanks and construction of a consolidated fueling station, he said.The consolidation would allow the town to store more fuel in the event of a natural disaster like superstorm Sandy.

“There are places were you can spend money to gain efficiency,” Mr. Dinizio said.

Democrats agreed the current Town Board handles its finances well.

“It is a well-managed town,” said Democrat Ron Rothman. “We are fiscally in good shape.”

Ms. Eisenstein said, “As I’m out speaking with people, they say how they like how Scott Russell manages our town and I concur with that.”

She agreed with Mr. Dinizio’s suggestion that the town could gain efficiency.

WINERY REGULATIONS

Any discussion on how to strike a balance between meeting the needs of agricultural businesses and maintaining the rural character of Southold Town will eventually turn to Vineyard 48’s controversial business practices. Tuesday’s debate was no exception.

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

While board members have traditionally taken a strong stance against the vineyard, Democratic hopeful Mr. Rothman said the winery is being stifled by the town’s excessive legislation, pointing specifically to the newly enacted special events law.The law and the winery use review were a response to residents’ complaints about such events — most notably at Vineyard 48 — and concern about the town’s options in addressing code violations.

Mr. Rothman, owner of Rothman’s Department Store in Southold, said the town should have enforced the laws already on the books rather then passing new regulations to restrict all of the town’s agricultural businesses.

“It’s overkill for the problem,” Mr. Rothman said. “I’m for agriculture and promoting the businesses that are zoned for these area. It is a good-neighbor policy.”

Mr. Dinizo said the need for the legislation stems from some operations not following a “good-neighbor policy.”

“If you mention [Vineyard] 48 you have to mention what goes on there; this establishment breaks the law every week,” he said. “That is a safety problem and a police problem.”

Mr. Dinizio, who has served for more than two decades on various Southold Town boards, said he’s seen the town’s need for more extensive regulations grow.

“In 1988 it was cheese and crackers and sipping wine and it was fine, but things are changing and that’s why we have a Town Board so we can all sleep at night,” he said.

Viewing the issue on a broader scale, Mr. Ghosio said his priority was to maintain the rural charm of the town.

“Riverhead used to be a rural town and we all see what’s happening out west and we don’t want that to happen here,” he said. “If we need to create laws to maintain that from time to time, so be it.”

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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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