After months of working closely with the Southold Town planning department to address any concern it had with our production-only site plan for Threes Brewing East, I was surprised that board member Jim Rich voted against the board’s State Environmental Quality Review Act negative declaration that would allow us to move forward in the approval process.
Although I was confident we adequately addressed any of their concerns, and mitigated any potential problems they had with the plan we submitted — and ultimately the other board members agreed, and our SEQRA Negative Declaration was approved — Mr. Rich remained firm in his opposition to approval.
And while he is certainly entitled to his opinion, and is in fact responsible for interpreting land use code in Southold Town as a member of the planning board, I was confused because he never really articulated any clear unresolved problems with our actual plan related to his reading of the code.
In the context of his comments at Monday’s public hearing on the construction of building structures at two existing vineyards on the North Fork, his opposition makes much more sense. It is also far more troubling. Leaving aside the callousness of his comments about “scraping” an untold number of “drunks from wineries” — which certainly deserves some further explanation, and most likely a public apology — that he feels that “we’re prostituting ourselves to save open land with alcohol,” illustrates clear bias against alcohol production in our town. More dangerous still, it suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of government, and its associated bureaucracy, as a tool to advance individual agendas at the expense of a level playing field with clearly defined rules.
To me the code should define the rules of the game. Common sense, not personal preferences, should guide our understanding and interpretation of the code. In Southold Town, I fear we are at risk of allowing the code to be employed as a tool for government to pick winners and losers.
At a minimum, Mr. Rich should recuse himself from the consideration of all current and future brewery, winery and distillery applications. His comments suggest predisposed bias centered more on his beliefs about alcohol production in Southold Town than on problems he has with any of these individual site plans.
We would all do well to remember the importance of common sense and upholding the rule of law. Just as the town code should be updated to reflect current reality, we should take a hard look at the site plan process, and the role of the planning board and planning department – and anyone acting behind the scenes — in the approval, stalling or rejection of commercial applications.
The author, pictured at left, is a co-owner of Threes Brewing in Brooklyn, which is looking to build a production facility at the Cutchogue Business Center on Cox Lane.