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Group explores changes to Southold Town Code related to beverage industry

Southold Town has established an alcohol farm products working group to tackle the question of whether the town code is adequate to regulate the changing nature and growth of the local wine, beer, distillery and cider industries. 

If current code relating to agricultural land is not up to that task, the group, which currently has eight members and will add a ninth, will recommend appropriate changes, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said at the group’s first meeting Monday.

The working group was created in response to regulatory changes and growing interest in these businesses at the state level, he said.

“The governor has made these types of industries a particular focus to promote, which means not only are they changing rules, they’re putting a lot of economics, a lot of money behind it,” Mr. Russell said. “It’s [of] huge interest in Southold right now.”

When the code was created it was both vague and limited in scope, giving rough parameters for establishing and operating wineries on agricultural land, Mr. Russell said. The current code on Agricultural-Conservation zoning, however, makes no mention of distilleries, breweries or cideries.

“The way the code works is there needs to be an enumerated use in that zone and if there’s no reference to it, it’s assumed to be not allowed,” Mr. Russell said.

The supervisor called it a “quagmire” that leaves applicants, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals unsure of what is allowed. The ZBA is sometimes left trying to interpret code that doesn’t necessarily exist, Mr. Russell said.

“We need the town code,” said group member Frank Purita, owner of D’Latte in Greenport, whose wife, Claudia, owns One Woman Wines and Vineyards in Southold. “You could just listen to most of these Planning Board [meetings] and sometimes it ends up in zoning … because we have nothing.”

At a Town Board meeting earlier this month, Mr. Russell said the working group is well-rounded and represents both the industries and town residents. Members need to be objective, as people are likely to lobby them, Mr. Russell said. This includes not being swayed by any pending applications, he added.

Joining Mr. Purita in the working group are John Cotugno, an architect and Greenport Village Planning Board member, who will provide a planning perspective and consult with the town planning department, and Nancy Bogen Torchio of Cutchogue, who said her interest in the group is twofold.

“I know enough people in the winery business and I want to see it succeed,” she said. “On the other hand, I want it to succeed in a way that residents are happy living next door to these businesses.”

Also named to the working group were Ian Van Bourgondien, Joann Maynard, Alex Damianos, Louisa Hargrave and Will Lee.

In addition to reviewing the current code in terms of trends and changing needs of the industries and considering impacts on residents’ quality of life, the group is tasked with creating definitions for terms not currently present in the town code, such as “on-farm brewery” and “on-farm distillery.”

Its goal is to submit findings and recommendations to the Town Board by November.

Caption: Frank Purita at Monday’s first meeting of the town’s new working group. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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