Town adopts contentious special events law

After a half hour of contentious debate, the Southold Town Board adopted a special events law to the “tremendous disappointment” of the Long Island Wine Council.

Members of the agricultural community criticized the draft law during a public two weeks ago when speakers offered numerous suggestions to amend the policy they said unfairly burdens businesses with fees and penalties for holding large events. Opponents of the bill said they were blindsided by the board’s decision to vote without incorporating any of their suggestions.

“The Town of Southold has chosen to burden the small businessman with time consuming applications and fees and to threaten them with burdensome fines and penalties,” said Sal Diliberto of the Long Island Wine Council. “The town should be doing things to benefit the industry, not limiting the ability of that industry to function in today’s difficult economic times.”

The law gives the town more control over events held at wineries and other properties and prevents an unlimited amount of special events from taking place at any one location. It would require a permit for any gathering that exceeds a building’s occupancy or parking capacity or is otherwise prohibited by the property’s zoning. A permit would also be required for events involving the closing of a public street, the use of amplified sound, the sale of food or merchandise, the placement of portable toilets and a number of other circumstances.

Fines for violators range from $500 to $5,000.

The agricultural community was not alone its opposition. For the first time, councilman Chris Talbot spoke out and voted against the law.

“There are changes that need to be made and I’m not supporting it,” he said. “The wine industry has grown this area. So many people come out here and spend their money. We are reaping all the benefits of these wineries and farms and for government, a Republican government, to throw another hurdle in the way of these businesses that are struggling to survive… I just have to say no to this law.”

The measure passed 5-1 with Mr. Talbot voting no.

Read more in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.