Editorial: Moratorium should have been proposed years ago

In September 1986, Stony Brook University’s Institute for Social Analysis produced a 50-page paper entitled “The Wine Industry and the Future of Agriculture on the North Fork.”

Just over 30 years later, that paper can still be found on Southold Town’s website. Some of the subjects it explores — particularly paragraphs on how to market a wine region and how to deal with growth and the impacts of a transient economy — remain topics of conversation at Town Hall. 

Here are a few passages we lifted from the study, which read as though the author had first-hand knowledge of today’s environment:

• “As the grape and wine industry grows on the North Fork, the area will certainly become a greater tourist attraction. Aside from traffic congestion, heavy tourist flows can have a negative effect on local people if shops catering to the tourist trade replace merchants who have provided important services to the community.”

• “The wine-related tourist will be more transient, staying a day or two at most, if staying overnight at all.”

• “The transient tourist wants souvenirs, restaurant meals, designer clothes and trendy art objects.”

• “Transient tourists, especially those attracted by the premium end of the wine market, also bring money to back up their desires.”

• “The result, when left to market forces, tends to favor the transient tourist over the local resident and resident tourists.”

Southold Town’s government is navigating those same challenges today. And a proposed temporary moratorium on new winery, brewery and distillery applications is one of the ways it’s dealing with growth. Supervisor Scott Russell has said such a hiatus would give the town time to revamp its code.

Time, however, is all the town has had since the first grapes were harvested here more than 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, studies like the aforementioned paper have been left to collect dust.

Growth has largely been a good thing for this town, with economically distressed agricultural properties being repurposed in a manner that supports an increasing number of locally owned businesses in a synergistic way.

Considering all the positives of a growing wine and craft beverage industry at a time when local artisanal goods have become highly desirable, it’s difficult to understand the sudden sense of urgency to enact a moratorium. It’s also a bit of a stretch to blame the North Fork’s growing popularity and crowded roads on just these industries, when pumpkin-picking and large festivals have also caused hardships.

There does come a time when it’s appropriate for a town to step back and look at the bigger picture. But it’s difficult to grasp exactly why it’s necessary to suspend new applications now — especially considering how long the transient economy has already been allowed to expand unfettered and how many projects have made their way through Town Hall in that time.

At the very least, applications that are already in the pipeline — representing projects in which tens of thousands of dollars have already been invested — should be exempt from any potential moratorium.