Planners have tough questions for winery running a tasting room on preserved land

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | sign for the tasting room at Sherwood House Vineyards on Oregon Road in Mattituck.

Southold Town Planners had some tough questions for Sherwood House Vineyards Monday night during a hearing on the winery’s plan to build two patios for an outdoor tasting area at the Oregon Road, Mattituck, vineyard.

Owners Charles and Barbara Smithen operate a tasting room out of a small shed on property without development rights, which were sold to Southold Town several years ago. The town’s Land Preservation Committee has balked at commercial activities on protected acreage, and the matter is currently before the town’s Justice Court.

The Smithens’ attorney, Patricia Moore, told the Planning Board Monday that the new tasting area, which would be on one of the two patios, would resolve code enforcement officer Damon Rallis’s concerns about the property. The new area is not on preserved land, and the shed will no longer be used for tastings if the site plan is approved. (The vineyard has another year-round tasting room on Route 25 in Jamesport.)

Town Planning Director Heather Lanza asked Ms. Moore whether her clients planned to continue operating the existing tasting room until the patio is built. Ms. Moore declined to answer, saying enforcement is being dealt with in the court. The existing tasting room remained open for visitors this week.

“That’s irrelevant to this application,” said Ms. Moore. “If the code enforcement officer wants to pursue it in court, we’re there. Our whole effort was to relocate and we’ve made a strong effort to do that.”

She added, “It is about as innocuous a use as can be expected of a tasting area.”

The existing tasting room has been on the property for 12 years. The site for tastings has been moved at the request of the land preservation committee, the attorney said.

The Smithens reserve the right to an opinion on whether wine tastings can take place on preserved lands but agreed to move the tastings over to non-preserved land, said Ms. Moore.

The attorney also objected to a letter her clients received from the Planning Board asking for the business to provide 35 on-site parking spaces for the seasonal tasting area.

She said the parking requirements for the two patios equal what the town requires for a 7,000-square-foot building. She cited several examples of other wineries that have a similar number of parking spaces and each has indoor tasting rooms of at least 2,400 square feet.

“The whole business philosophy of Sherwood House is a garden setting,” she said. “Less is more. That is the way they have been functioning. To build out more parking in the site would change the look.”

But vineyard neighbors aren’t quite sure that the Smithens’ use of their property is quite so rustic.

“On weekends, there’s a bunch of limousines,” offered Wavecrest Lane resident Ken Euring, who said that he represented a group of property owners near the vineyard. “In the past, I’ve seen canopies up there, and young ladies serving wine under canopies.”

Ms. Moore said that canopies and tents are temporary structures and her clients are within their rights to place them on their property.

In response to questions from Ms. Lanza, Ms. Moore also said that the Smithens do not plan to have amplified live music at the winery. She said that solar-powered parking lot lighting will only be used to help illuminate the lot in the early evening hours when it begins to get dark early toward the end of the season.

She added that the property also has a vegetative buffer between the wine tasting area and the neighbors.
“Let’s keep it as undeveloped as possible. That is the goal here, to keep it looking as simple as possible,” Ms. Moore said. “I think the site plan speaks for itself. I hope you will approve it as soon as possible.”

Another planned wine-tasting room further east on Oregon Road in Cutchogue also drew fire from Mr. Euring during Monday’s meeting. Lieb Vines owners plan to convert a 5,569-square-foot building to a wine tasting and storage area.

Mr. Euring said that he and others in the neighborhood were opposed to the change, and added later that he believed the town needs to set better standards for what is allowed at wineries, including whether tasting rooms should always be allowed.
“If you let one have one, you’ve gotta let them all,” he said. “We’re interested to have it defined more.”

Lieb Vines attorney Abigail Wickham said that, while Mr. Euring’s comments might be pertinent to other wineries, it was not relevant to Lieb Vines which is not anywhere near Mr. Euring’s Mattituck home.

“Mr. Lieb, who lives close to this, is certainly aware of the concerns,” she said. “He has helped preserve the character of Oregon Road. I hope you will help him to do that.”

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