Earlier this spring, I began working through the application process with Southold Town to build a production brewery on an industrially zoned parcel located on the corner of Oregon Road and Cox Lane in Cutchogue. Work sessions gave way to a public hearing, and then to more work sessions, as our team worked to address any concerns the Planning Board and planning department had with our site plan.
As spring turned to summer and summer turned to fall, and as we closed out minor issues with lighting fixtures and landscaping, there were still issues to settle related to future limitations placed on the site.
We were hopeful that final approval was in sight.
But now, as the Town Board considers Supervisor Scott Russell’s recent recommendation for a moratorium on the town’s approval of any new breweries, wineries and distilleries, my project, Threes Brewing East, faces an uncertain future.
Although our project will have little negative impact on the quality of life and public safety issues the supervisor cites as his motivation for recommending the moratorium, I may need to start looking elsewhere to build my brewery.
While it’s probably smarter for me to remain silent and hope that the Town Board decides to carve out a space in the proposed moratorium that permits the two breweries and one distillery currently making their way through the application process to continue moving forward, I fear my silence will only serve to validate what I see as an effort to distract from a failure to articulate sensible solutions to solve problems related to the growing popularity of Southold Town in general. Further, even if current applicants are permitted to continue moving forward, I am fearful that a moratorium — and potentially even the discussion of one — is likely to harm the local beer, wine and spirits industries, and that it will serve as a false proxy for more impactful initiatives that have the ability to improve quality of life and public safety across the board.
Our site plan application for Threes Brewing East is for a production brewery only; it doesn’t include a tasting room or retail space. In choosing the site, we believed the existing code supported our intended use. By allowing us to move forward through the site plan process, it seemed that the town at least implicitly approved of our use.
At the board’s regular meeting Nov. 1, the supervisor affirmed that production breweries are in fact permitted to operate in the industrial zone of Southold Town, according to the existing code.
It is frustrating that we must now wait for further discussion between the Town Board and the supervisor to see if our project would even be exempt from the retroactive effects of a potential moratorium. Although Mr. Russell has highlighted my brewery project as an example of an operation that may benefit from code updates that result from his efforts during the proposed moratorium, I would much rather move forward with our application as submitted, and consider any possible future benefits at a later date.
As a small business with limited resources, we don’t have the luxury to wait around for future possibilities.
There was also personal motivation for our selection of the building site in Cutchogue. Building a brewery on the North Fork would have permitted my wife, Liz, and I to return to our hometown to raise our two young girls. This potential moratorium not only has the capability to prevent us from moving home full-time; it risks wasting the hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars we’ve spent on architects, engineers and attorneys to shepherd this project through the application process.
Halting my project by instituting a moratorium, or delaying it while the board and supervisor consider one, would punish me for a series of quality of life and public safety issues that have little to do with my business as conceived. It boggles my mind that I would not be allowed to go forward with my brewery in Southold Town because of potential traffic issues generated by a non-existent tasting room or retail space.
It’s absolutely reasonable to talk about the daily potential traffic caused by our employees’ cars, or the weekly delivery trucks coming to and from our production facility, but it borders on absurd to even think about retail traffic when our application is limited to operating a production facility only.
Beyond the concerns I have for my own project, I reject the utility of a moratorium in actually solving the problems the supervisor cites as his motivation. While it’s easy to find a scapegoat in local beer, wine and spirits, such limited focus necessarily limits our ability to solve what I believe are multidimensional problems. Limiting our discussion of traffic to the factors associated with the retail side of breweries, wineries and distilleries, minimizes, if not altogether ignores, other important causal factors. Freezing future brewery, winery and distillery applications will not solve issues caused by pumpkin picking or seasonal regional tourism, and it will not solve the continuing scourge of drunk driving.
If reducing traffic is our primary concern, we would do well to have a discussion about the many isolated and related factors that cause traffic on the North Fork — a traffic study, not a moratorium on breweries, wineries, and distilleries may be a better first step to tackle the problem. If use of AC-zoned land in Southold Town is a major concern for the supervisor, it would be wise to look at inter-industry use of this land, and not limit our focus to these three related industries. To me, floating a moratorium does not illustrate vision — rather, it suggests myopia.
The craft beer, wine and spirits industries have been at the forefront of revitalizing communities around the country. Locally, these industries provide good jobs on the production and retail sides of their operations. They attract people to the area who spend money at businesses around town. My own project would have brought eight good-paying, non-seasonal middle class jobs to Southold Town. It is unfair to highlight the costs associated with these industries and minimize the benefits in the service of an argument supporting a moratorium.
Code clarification is certainly useful, but the world does not stop turning just because we want it to — luckily, a moratorium is not the only tool we have to update the code.
I remain hopeful that the Town Board decides to push back on the supervisor’s proposal for a moratorium, and all of the stakeholders can come together to make sensible updates and clarifications to the town code, without requiring a freeze.
I am similarly hopeful that there is the necessary political will to address the quality of life and public safety issues the supervisor cited as his motivation for the moratorium. I welcome the chance to be part of these discussions.
The author is co-owner of Threes Brewing. He is a graduate of Mattituck High School who lives part-time in Cutchogue.