Town’s court battle with Sherwood House continues

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Barbara Smithen, co-owner of Sherwood House Vineyards, holding a bottle of her 2010 Chardonnay.

This is due to be a busy week in the ongoing legal battle between Southold Town and Charles and Barbara Smithen, owners of Sherwood House Vineyards on Oregon Road in Mattituck, over the Smithens’ use of a shed on preserved land as a tasting room.

The town received a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Smithens from using the preserved land for retail merchandising and tasting activities as of Nov. 16, and both parties are due back in court on that matter Dec. 7, said assistant town attorney Jennifer Andaloro on Tuesday.

The Smithens also filed a lawsuit against the Southold Town Planning Board on Oct. 12, after the board refused to consider their proposed site plan this past summer. The town is due to respond to the lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court on Dec. 6. Ms. Andaloro said both matters are being handled in-house by the town attorney’s office.

For many years, the Smithens had been operating a seasonal tasting area in a 10-by-10 foot shed on a portion of their 38-acre vineyard where the development rights had been sold. They filed a site plan application in April to move the tasting area to a section of their property that still had its development rights intact, after they were cited by the town for conducting marketing and retail operations on preserved land.

Those Town Justice Court proceedings are still pending and are next due to be heard in court in January.

The Planning Board declined to further consider the site plan throughout the summer, citing the ongoing justice court matters, and eventually denied the Smithens’ application in September, after they refused to stop using the tasting shed while waiting for their site plan to be processed.

In their lawsuit, prepared by attorney William Moore of Southold, the Smithens ask that the Planning Board’s decision be reversed and annulled, and that their site plan be approved.

They say the Planning Board “has acted beyond its jurisdiction and has taken for itself the role of prosecutor, judge and jury while refusing to perform its own duties in the course of the review of the application.”

The Smithens also say in the suit that, since their vineyard is within a state-designated “farm district,” they have certain protections under state Agricultural and Markets Law against unreasonable restrictions from the town.

They say they have filed an appeal with the Agriculture and Markets department, which “is actively reviewing the town’s site plan regulations to determine if the town’s land use regulations and the respondent’s imposition of conditions comply with the provisions of state law or if they constitute an unreasonable burden on agricultural land.”

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