Vineyard food fight continues

David Page and Barbara Shinn came to Town Hall this week seeking help with a technical problem threatening four weddings booked this summer at their Mattituck vineyard. They got the help they needed but still walked out displeased.

Mr. Page took great offense at Supervisor Scott Russell’s assertion that the vineyard must stop serving meals cooked on what he called an illegal commercial kitchen. Mr. Russell said it was a condition for the town to allow the weddings, the technicality vexing the couple. The town’s blessing was needed because the weddings are to take place partly on town-preserved farmland.

The Page-Shinn request for approval raised anew concerns voiced recently — particularly by the supervisor’s brother, Eric, who runs a Southold restaurant — that the town has been lax in enforcing its rules limiting what food can be served at vineyards.

Mr. Page called the supervisor’s position political payback for his having managed fellow vintner Chris Baize’s unsuccessful run for supervisor in the 2007 town elections.

“It’s just too bad that we have such a police state in Southold Town as it relates to our industry,” he said.

“I was the one who suggested that we grant relief here for Mr. Page to host four specific events on four specific dates,” said Mr. Russell. “Where is the politics in that?”

He called the charge of politics a smokescreen. “Mr. Page has shown nothing but contempt for the rules of this community and the people of the community since he first opened up,” he said.

Mr. Page and Ms. Shinn operate Shinn Estate Vineyards and the Farmhouse B&B on their 20-acre, Oregon Road farm. They needed special Town Board permission for the weddings after it was discovered that the temporary tents erected for past events stood on a sliver of the preserved land.

Ms. Shinn and Mr. Page sought unsuccessfully to redraw the lines and square off the protected area. Although the town’s Land Preservation Committee approved, the Town Board refused to consider it, with members saying they feared setting a precedent for reconfiguring saved lands. There’s nothing new about the winery hosting weddings, Mr. Page said to the board during its Tuesday morning work session. He estimated that about 15 special events have taken place there in the past six years.

The supervisor said those past permits had been issued “in error.”

While informally agreeing to allow the weddings, the board will require a written agreement limiting the use of the town land to the specific dates of the four weddings. “I’m not going to crush some girl’s dreams,” said Councilman Vincent Orlando.

In saying yes, Mr. Russell also said the towns will require the vineyard and B&B to cease town code violations. He pointed to the vineyard’s website, which on Tuesday touted “elegant sit-down dinners in our farmhouse dining room.”

That language was later removed.

Mr. Page, a chef, said he does not operate an illegal kitchen at the B&B, which is his and his wife’s home.

“Scott shouldn’t make these accusations unless he has something to back it up,” he said. “I’ve been here for years and have never been cited for anything. Scott’s just looking for a fight. I find it insulting to me and my wife and the hard work we’ve done here. This guy is way out of line.”

The town code says commercial kitchens are not permitted at wineries. The supervisor said he has received complaints from the North Fork Bed and Breakfast Association regarding the availability of meals beyond breakfast at the Farmhouse B&B.

“This is not a permitted use on residential property,” the supervisor said. “B&B owners who continue to complain tell me that reviews of his farmhouse kitchen are readily available on the Internet. He resents being forced to follow the same rules as everybody else.”

As to the claim of political payback, the supervisor said he is fond of Mr. Baize and supported his appointment as chairman of the town’s Agricultural Advisory Committee. He also claims to be “the least politically motivated person to hold (the supervisor’s) position.”

The state, the town’s land preservation committee and special counsel all agreed that the weddings are not a proper use of preserved land, the supervisor added.

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