Events law in Southold headed for public debate

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said this week that ‘special events’ held every weekend at area farms and vineyards should not be classified as special events.

Southold’s contentious special events permit law is ready for public comment.

During its regular session Tuesday, the Town Board set a public hearing for a revised version of the proposal for July 16 at 4:30 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

The proposed law would give the town more control over special events at wineries and other agricultural properties. The measure comes in response to residents’ complaints about such events — most notably at Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue — and concern about the town’s options in addressing code violations.

“[The proposal] will limit these events, because if you have special events every Saturday and Sunday they are no longer special events, they are a business model,” said Supervisor Scott Russell.

The code change was shelved last year when representatives of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, an agency with the power to overturn local laws, found it placed undue restrictions on farming activities. But town attorney Martin Finnegan said the state agency supports the revised proposal.

The law would require a permit for any gathering that exceeds a building’s occupancy or parking capacity, or is prohibited by zoning. A permit would also be required for an event that involved the closing of a public street, the use of amplified sound, the sale of food or merchandise and the placement of portable toilets.

Town officials said permit fees would be based on the number of anticipated attendees: $150 for events with up to 500 attendees; $250 for events expecting 500 to 1,000 guests; and $350 when expected attendance exceeds 1,000 people. Permit applications would need to be submitted 60 days prior to the event or be subject to rejection or a $250 late fee.

The revised permit fees are significantly lower than those the town proposed last year. which ranged from $250 to $650.

In the past, critics have said the town has failed to clearly define what a special event is, forcing organizers of routine events to undergo burdensome permit procedures. Opponents also argue that limiting the events would decrease agritourism in the area. The Long Island Farm Bureau and Long Island Wine Council are among the groups that have expressed concern about the code changes.

“We are in talks with the town about the legislation,” said wine council president Ron Goerler Jr., owner of Jamesport Vineyards in Jamesport. “We all benefit from the amount of money generated by tourism. It’s a balancing act.”

The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals would administer the permits, as it does now. Events on town property or exceeding 1,000 attendees would also be subject to Town Board approval.

If the revised law is approved, event organizers who don’t get permits will pay fines ranging from $500 to $1,500. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $5,000.

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