A month after Southold Farm + Cellar closed its doors at the request of Southold Town for operating without proper permits, several neighbors urged the Zoning Board of Appeals at its meeting Thursday morning to allow the business to reopen.
A handful of residents spoke at Thursday’s meeting — which was scheduled to last 20 minutes but instead lasted an hour and a half — in defense of the owners, Regan and Carey Meador, and their business.
“There’s been no adverse effect at all,” said next-door neighbor Carol Haman. “There’s no traffic problem. The people park inside, and there’s only a small number of cars at a time. There’s no noise.”
The Meadors had been using a small structure on their property as a tasting room for about a year, believing they were allowed to do so under a farm stand permit. But last month, the town asked them to shut it down because the couple only had a certificate of occupancy for a single-family dwelling.
At Thursday’s meeting, the couple asked the board for special exemptions to continue operations at their small-scale, experimental winery on Old North Road.
Mr. Meador asked for permission to resume using the 400-square-foot “tasting room” building on their property. The board asked why he couldn’t use a different location as the tasting room, but Mr. Meador said having another location would be too costly.
“It’s a great idea, but we can’t afford it,” he said. “That was largely why we chose to do it this way. Us living on that property and being able to sell from that property, just like any other farmer, spreads the costs around and allows us to support ourselves.”
Mr. Meador said he also hopes to build a new “processing barn” in which wine can be made. But the town code requires such a structure to be built at least 100 feet from a major road and on a plot of land at least 10 acres in size; The Meadors would require an exemption to construct it.
“The permit was for a farm stand, not a tasting room,” said ZBA Chairperson Leslie Weisman during the meeting. “These are very substantial variances we’re considering.”
Patricia Moore, a land-use attorney representing the Meadors, said Southold Farm + Cellar’s should be eligible to receive variances because it’s a small, boutique operation.
“We’re not dealing with a standard winery,” Ms. Moore said. “When you get a farm winery license, technically you have to process on site.”
The board raised concerns over the traffic wineries can cause, especially when they attract limousines and buses. But Mr. Meador said he has no plans to allow such large vehicles; rather than a bar-type atmosphere found at some larger North Fork wineries, he said he wants his tasting room be only a sampling space for his family’s wines.
“I look at [the tasting room] as a bridge for us,” Mr. Meador said. “We have to have some ability, especially early on in our business, to prove ourselves … I don’t want to have heavy traffic or live music.”
Conor Harrigan, a Cutchogue photographer who had previously worked at Duck Walk Vineyards, told the board that Mr. Meador’s plan to run a small-scale tasting room wouldn’t attract the crowds and traffic the board feared.
“A winery this size is not going to want a limo,” he said. “You sell wine best when you have a better one-on-one experience.”
But while most of the speakers at Thursday’s meeting supported the winery, one neighbor, Alison Latham, has written to the town opposing the business. A copy of her letter wasn’t read at the meeting.
Since any variances granted by the board would be attached to property itself and not to the property owners, Ms. Weisman said the ZBA would require future owners to stick with the Meadors’ business model.
“If we grant a winery, anybody can come in and suddenly limos are fine,” she said. “The only way this can proceed is if there are safeguards put into place about the limitations of this property.”
The board will discuss the proposed exemptions at an Aug. 20 special meeting.
Photo caption: Regan Meador, left, addressed the Zoning Board of Appeals Thursday before several neighbors advocated that his Southold Farm + Cellar be allowed to resume operations.