Neighbors speak out at Vineyard 48 public hearing

GIANNA VOLPE FILE PHOTO | Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley has twice testified before the New York State Liquor Authority about complaints the department has received on Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue.

Cutchogue residents living near Vineyard 48 poured their hearts out to the Southold Planning Board Monday, saying the loud music and bawdy behavior of the winery’s patrons is destroying their quality of life.

Although the hearing was on the rather mundane business of approving a new site plan for the Route 48 business, one by one speakers described in graphic detail lewd and disrupting acts that have spilled out over the vineyard’s property line into their backyards.

“My family and I were across the street from the vineyard one day and I looked over to my left between the vines and there was a women on her knees. She wasn’t praying,” said Horseshoe Drive resident Jesse Johnson, who said he moved his family from Riverhead to Cutchogue in search of a more quiet life. “They don’t give a damn about the people in the neighborhood. Money talks and that’s they way they look at it.”

Mr. Johnson was one of more than a dozen speakers to voice frustration with the vineyard’s practices. Visually upset neighbors said they feel trapped in their own homes and are unwilling to let their children play outside. No one spoke in favor of the vineyard.

Traffic was among the top concerns pointed out by nearly every speaker.

“There were a number of times we were almost been hit by a limo,” said Denise Lademann. “There is going to be a terrible accident on this road. It’s just a matter of time.”

A Depot Lane resident compared Vineyard 48 to a rowdy Hamptons nightspot. “Last Saturday a man got up on top of an SUV dancing round, waving his hands, screaming,” he said. “In Hampton Bays they have a nightclub called Boardy Barn. For me here in Cutchogue on Route 48 we have a day club.”

Some said the issue goes beyond the inconvenience noise and traffic Vineyard 48 presents.

“My house is for sale, that is how bad it is,” said Laurie Helinski, who lives in the home closest to the vineyard and claims the business is lowering property values. “I can’t give away my house.”

Vineyard 48 is no stranger to controversy. The State Liquor Authority began investigating the vineyard in April after the business became the source of a long list of complaints, including loud music and patrons wandering onto neighboring properties and having sex in public.

In the weeks since the vineyard reopened for the 2013 season police have received six complaints, Police Chief Martin Flatly told the board. During a typical season Vineyard 48 receives two to three times more complaints on average that other local vineyards, he said.

Southold Town too has taken legal action against the vineyard, citing violations against its previously approved site plan, including exceeding maximum occupancy.

In response to the litigation vineyard attorney Patricia Moore presented an amended site plan to the board on March 25. The proposal includes a new layout for the existing parking area along with the creation of an overflow lot with 100 additional spaces.

The revised plan also includes 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 the vineyard has used in recent years. The pavilion would provide extra seating and picnic tables. It would also allow for 276 occupants in addition to the 251 already permitted.

The amended plan would mitigate the issues neighbors raised, Ms. Moore said. Additional parking spaces are intended to prevent traffic build-up and the pavilion walls would lessen the noise of the vineyard’s DJs, she said. The vineyard has also hired new management and trained staffed to help prevent the issues presented, she said. Ms. Moore said Vineyard 48 is being unfairly targeted by the Town.

“We want to be good neighbors,” she said. “All we can do is move forward. We are confident things will work themselves out. No complaints have been substantiated.”

Residents, however, weren’t relieved by the amended plan.

“They are breaking the law and you’re going to reward them by letting them build a permanent structure?” Kathleen Sherman said. “[Patrons] are having a wonderful time at our expense. We are paying the taxes.”

“Approving this site plan would be criminal,” Horseshoe Drive resident Bill Shipman said.

After nearly two hours the board agreed to leave the hearing open until July 1.  Emails, letters and calls will be accepted for the record until that date.

“This board is understanding,” board Chairman Donald Wilcenski said. “We hear you and we will do everything we can to make sure both sides are happy.”

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