Vineyard 48 owner defends business at hearing

CLAIRE LEADEN PHOTO | Vineyard 48 owner Matthew Metz responds to the planning board’s questions Monday evening.

Vineyard 48’s owner and his attorney stood before the Southold Town Planning Board Monday to answer questions regarding the business’ controversial operating practices.

Owner Matthew Metz and attorney Patricia Moore told the board and the dozen local residents in attendance that Vineyard 48 is no different than other North Fork vineyards and has become the target of unfair criticism from the town.

“The Town has become a bully,” Ms. Moore said.

Monday marked the second public hearing on the vineyard’s proposed amended site plan, which would create an overflow lot with 100 additional parking spaces.

The revised plan also includes construction of a 40-by-100-foot outdoor pavilion adjoining the tasting room. The pavilion would provide extra seating and picnic tables, and allow for 276 occupants in addition to the 251 currently permitted.

Residents neighboring Vineyard 48 believe the board should not consider the amended site plan, given that the State Liquor Authority is investigating the business. The SLA began looing into the vineyard in April following a laundry list of complaints, including loud music and patrons allegedly wandering onto neighboring properties and having sex in public.

“I don’t understand how doubling the occupancy of this vineyard will make the problem better,” said Horse Shoe Lane resident Denise Lademann.

Last month, a few days after the first public hearing on the issue, Town officials said the winery erected four tents without seeking the required permits — a direct violation of town code.

During the hearing, Ms. Moore responded to the allegations.

“Tent is not the right term, they are canopies,” she said. “Canopies have no sides.” Ms. Moore added that under New York State law the vineyard is within its legal right to place tents or canopies on the premises.

Last month, Town Attorney Martin Finnegan called the placement of the structures a complete disregard of the existing court order and applicable regulations in the town code.

Residents echoed that sentiment Monday.

“It’s easier for them to ask forgiveness than permission,”said Julie Johnson of Horse Shoe Drive.

Despite claims that Vineyard 48 is operating under tighter security and wants to be a good neighbor there has been little change to its controversial operating practices, Horse Shoe Lane resident Bill Shipman said.

“Did you see the pictures from June 3 of people having sex in my neighbor’s yard?” Mr. Shipman asked the board.

“Yes,” board Chairman Donald Wilcenski said.

“Help us,” Mr. Shipman said.

Ms. Moore said the incident was unrelated to the vineyard.

“I know you are tempted to react to [the community’s] pleas,” Ms. Moore said. “The purpose of us going through a site plan review is to address the issues, not rehash the issues.”

After nearly two hours, the board agreed to leave the public record open until July 15.  Emails, letters and calls will be accepted for the record until that date.

The meeting ended with familiar words from the board.

“We hear you,” Mr. Wilcenski said.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Town officials said Vineyard 48 has erected four outdoor tents without applying for permits.
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