Southold kills proposed moratorium on wineries, breweries

Scott Russell

Plans for a moratorium on applications for new wineries, breweries and distilleries in Southold Town are dead, Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday evening.

Instead, the Town Board is looking to create a broad-based working group to focus on how the code needs to change when it comes to regulating those businesses.

“The Town Board doesn’t support a moratorium, and although I didn’t think a working group would work without a moratorium, this Town Board does and I support them,” Mr. Russell said at a board meeting. His comments were in response to local winemaker Adam Suprenant, who asked how long the “cloud of a moratorium” would hang over the wine industry. He said the supervisor’s answer was reassuring.

The establishment of working group was recommended by the Long Island Wine Council and the Long Island Farm Bureau. The wine council also requested more transparency in the application process and enforcement of existing regulations in a letter to the town this week.

Wine council executive director Ali Tuthill clarified the group’s goals for board members, who had wondered during their morning work session whether the letter was referring to enforcement of town regulations or other laws.

“You say there is no clarity in our [town] code,” Ms. Tuthill explained during Tuesday evening’s public comment period. “The point we’re making is there is a lot of clarity within state and federal legislation that we can use as a starting point.”

The groups, along with the town’s agricultural advisory committee, stressed their willingness to continue working with the town on explicitly defining wineries in the code.

“We’re not here as adversarial people, adversarial organizations,” farm bureau president Karl Novak said. “We want to do what’s best for the community. We want to do what’s best for agriculture, whatever part of agriculture that is.”

Agricultural advisory committee chairman Chris Baiz, who owns The Old Field Vineyards in Southold, pointed to state and federal law as being able to provide definitions on wineries, breweries and distilleries. He said the committee has formed its own clear and concise definitions relating to agriculture and has tried to minimize their susceptibility to interpretation.

Mr. Russell said agricultural definitions, such as one for farm stands that requires 60 percent of sales to be from non-processed agricultural products, would be too restrictive on wineries and would not meet that industry’s needs. He said he had suggested a moratorium to address the “issues that needed to be solved on a global scale.”

During the board’s earlier work session, Mr. Russell had stressed that town code should be clear to the whole community, not just applicants moving through the planning process.

“The code is the public’s document,” the supervisor said. “It really is a community document and it shouldn’t be one person’s vision.”

Councilman Jim Dinizio suggested that instead of updating the law, the appeals process should be streamlined.

“If it’s not in the code, Scott’s mentioned this many times, it’s not allowed,” Mr. Dinizio said. “There’s a relief for that. The relief is the Zoning Board of Appeals. Yeah, it’s an onerous process. We should make that less onerous.”

But Mr. Russell said making applicants go to the ZBA, where the outcome is uncertain, would not be easier or remove bureaucratic red tape.

“The code wasn’t carved on tablets,” he said. “It varies based on changing needs and if the code is no longer sufficient you review the code; you don’t just keep saying go to the ZBA, go to the ZBA. The code needs to incorporate what the goals of the community are.”

Councilman William Ruland observed that those differing views are exactly why a special committee is needed.

“It’s obvious that you and Jim have robustly represented all the reasons why we should put a working group together,” Mr. Ruland said.

Board members will return in the new year with suggestions about who should be included in that working group.

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Photo: Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell listens as Councilman Jim Dinizio discusses the town code during Tuesday’s work session. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)