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Long Island Wine Council, businesses wary of proposed moratorium


After recent debates over Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell’s idea for a moratorium on new winery, brewery and distillery development, Mr. Russell and a representative of the Long Island Wine Council spoke at the Mattituck Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday night about the proposal.

Mr. Russell said the idea of a moratorium was meant to allow for a comprehensive look at the code that might permit uses like tasting rooms while limiting others. Long Island Wine Council executive director Ali Tuthill signaled her group does not support the idea.

While the Long Island Wine Council is open to talking with the town about the issues, she said it currently doesn’t support the proposed moratorium.

“We don’t think there’s a need for any stop to new businesses wanting to come in here and start in the craft beverage industry,” Ms. Tuthill said. She also said Mr. Russell’s reasoning for a moratorium hasn’t been clearly outlined.

However, the group is committed to being “good community members” by talking about how to fix code issues, she added.

“This is an opportunity for us to engage in this conversation rather than just be silent,” Ms. Tuthill said.

That criticism of the moratorium extended to others at Wednesday’s meeting. Some business owners said they believe the measure will be “punitive” to the wine industry and signal to small business owners that they weren’t welcome.

David Perrin, operator of Cedar House on Sound Bed & Breakfast, said the North Fork needed year round businesses and feared a moratorium would be an overreach of local government.

“I think it’s imperative that we do not alienate any industry,” Mr. Perrin said. “Anything that would impede growth makes me nervous.”

Local attorney Gail Wickham said the threat of a moratorium would “certainly spur the [wine] industry to work with the town,” though she also believes following through on the idea would negatively impact businesses.

“They’re going to be really hurt by a moratorium,” Ms. Wickham said, adding she believes the Long Island Wine Council should do more to highlight the benefits of the wine industry on the North Fork.  “This is what’s keeping this area rural.”

Town Supervisor Scott Russell speaks at a Mattituck Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday night to explain his call for a moratorium on new wineries. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Town Supervisor Scott Russell speaks at the Mattituck Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Mr. Russell pushed back against the criticism and said a moratorium would give the town time to come up with a “comprehensive” solution outlining a vision for decades to come. He characterized the moratorium plan as a six-month ban on new wineries, breweries and distilleries with an option to extend it to 9 months.

It would also be unfair to move forward with applications that hadn’t been approved yet and then change the rules, he said.

The current code, Mr. Russell said, is outdated and in some cases too restrictive; tasting rooms are currently not allowed under the code, he said.

“Those uses hadn’t been anticipated 30, 40 years ago [when the code was created],” he said, adding there are now so many wineries in town that something must be done. “We’re at a point of absorption where we need to start addressing these issues.”

Mr. Russell also rejected claims that his stance was against the wine industry, noting that the town had refused in many instances to enforce the code because it was out of date. Mr. Russell said he had intended to wait before making the idea public but released information on the proposed moratorium after media outlets questioned him after rumors of the ban surfaced.

He called the negative feedback to the moratorium a “histrionic overreaction that’s going to speak against the interests of the very people we’re talking about.”

The supervisor also said he was surprised by the Long Island Wine Council’s opposition.

“It shows me they’re not serious about dialogue,” Mr. Russell said as Ms. Tuthill listened, arms crossed.

She later defended the council and described it as a willing partner.

“We said we were waiting to work with you,” Ms. Tuthill said. “We are still waiting. We are not here being antagonistic.”

Mattituck Chamber of Commerce president Terry McShane said business owners should remain open to dialogue and hoped they could find common ground on the issue.

Paul Silansky of Strong’s Marine also tried to calm concerns and urged others to have an open mind.

“It seems there’s agreement here that the growth of the industry has outpaced the ability of the code to support it well,” he said. “I think what the supervisor is asking for is some time to improve the code so that it supports the industry better going forward.”

No moratorium will be implemented before a working group has been set up to discuss the idea, Town Board members have said.

Beyond Mr. Russell, no other board member has publicly said they’d support the idea.

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Photo: Long Island Wine Council executive director Ali Tuthill explains her organization’s position on the proposed moratorium on new wineries, distilleries and breweries. (Credit: Paul Squire)