Southold Town considers redefining winery usage

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The town is trying to broaden what it considers an acceptable business practice at vineyards.

Southold Town passed a law Tuesday that defines a special event at an agricultural operation. It requires all farms, bed and breakfasts or wineries to purchase a permit for any activity outside its defined usage, as outlined under town code.

On Thursday, the town took up separate legislation to broaden the definition of a winery’s permitted use — a move that upset an owner of a different type of agricultural-based business in town.

The town’s draft policy states that events such as weddings should be considered a normal business practice at wineries. If passed, vineyards would not be required to purchase a special events permit, so long as the event does not exceed its maximum occupancy.

Since the new definition does not include other agritourism businesses, those proprietors would be required to purchase a special events permit to hold similar events.

“I believe it is unconscionable to make a law like this just for wineries,” said Prudence Heston, owner of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue. “You have put me in a completely different category than [wineries] and you have given them the advantage, just because they have chosen to grow grapes and instead of flowers. Why would you penalize me for doing a different form of agricultural?”

Before the new events law was enacted, wineries were the only agricultural operations that could apply for a special events permit; technically excluding farms or bed and breakfasts from hosting large-scale events such as weddings.

“The events legislation that we passed the other night, Prudence, was designed for [business owners like] you to legally have special events, because the [previous] law did not,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

A potential compromise could be a change of the town’s farm stand code that dictates the permitted uses of farms and bed and breakfasts, the supervisor said.

“We need clarity for Prudence’s sake,” Mr. Russell said. “We have to be able to address those concerns, but I don’t think you can address it all under one blanket law.”

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