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Southold ZBA denies Croteaux Vineyards variance

The Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals denied Croteaux Vineyards’ variance request to continue its winery operations in a unanimous decision at its July 6 meeting. The Southold winery remains open as town code enforcement weighs its options.

The winery’s owners will likely appeal the ZBA decision, which was filed online Monday.

Co-owner Michael Croteau applied for the variance in July 2016 after being notified by the town of a code requirement that calls for a winery to “be on a parcel [in] which at least 10 acres are devoted to a vineyard or other agricultural purposes.”

Mr. Croteau has argued that he has 14 acres, but they’re split by South Harbor Road.

“We’ve always operated them since I planted in 2003 as one farm,” Mr. Croteau said in an interview Friday. “The town’s position is that I don’t comply with their 10-acre rule for a winery.”

The variance request was an attempt for the ZBA to recognize the two parcels as qualifying for the 10-acre requirement.

“That was the relief I was looking for and I guess they saw fit to not grant it,” said Mr. Croteau, who claimed to be unaware of the ZBA decision when reached Friday.

One parcel, which the tasting room is built on, is 4.65 acres and the other is 9.371 acres. The winery, which produces rosé wine exclusively, has been operating since 2007 without the variance or site plan approval, according to documents sent to the vineyard.

The ZBA, in its decision signed by chairperson Leslie Kanes Weisman, said granting the variance would “produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood and a detriment to nearby properties” and would have a harmful impact on the physical or environmental conditions of the neighborhood, citing resident complaints claiming the establishment negatively impacts noise, traffic and parking in the area.

The decision also said “the benefit sought by the applicant could be achieved by some method, feasible for the applicant to pursue, other than an area variance.” The vineyard can still grow grapes on its property and the ZBA suggested the owner “acquire space to process grapes and operate a winery and tasting room in a location contiguous to his vineyard.” The other option would be to operate the tasting room and wine sales in a code compliant business zoning district.

Mr. Croteau said he isn’t 100 percent sure of his next steps but will most likely file an appeal.

“Our plan right now is to continue operating the way we have been because we talked to the town about that, while this continues to go on,” he said. “We’ll just file an appeal and go from there.”

The ZBA decision said the problems Croteaux Vineyards faces have been “self-created” and that the code clearly states a parcel must be 10 acres, not one more parcels owned by the winery owner. The vote was approved 4-0; member Nick Planamento abstained.

Town Attorney Bill Duffy said code enforcement was unable to do anything while the ZBA decision was pending. The code enforcement is “evaluating which direction to,” before taking any action, he said.

Supervisor Scott Russell said the problems Croteaux are facing are part of a larger issue on the North Fork.

“From a general perspective, I’ve been saying these new models just don’t fit neatly in the code,” he said. “All the more reason to revisit the code … it’s about a town code that just never anticipated all these different nuances.”

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