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Croteaux files suit against ZBA following denied variance

Croteaux Vineyards went to court Wednesday in response to the Southold Zoning Board of Appeals decision last month to deny a variance that would have legalized the vineyard’s winery and tasting room operations.

Co-owner Michael Croteau said Friday that filing the notice of claim in State Supreme Court was the next step in the process in challenging the ZBA’s decision. The town was made aware of this step, he said, and continues to cooperate with the vineyard on the matter.

“I hope that this process ends up being a little bit of a catalyst for them to update the code around wineries and a lot of small producers on the North Fork, which seems to be what they are trying to. It’s just that that moves slowly,” Mr. Croteau said. “Can’t wait around for that.”

It’s not a “contentious situation” with the town, he said.

“I think they’re dealing in the spirit of cooperation, as are we,” he said. He said he has been working with the town attorney to keep Croteaux Vineyards open during the process.

In July 2016, Mr. Croteau filed for the variance after he was notified by the town of a code requirement that calls for a winery to be on at least 10-acres that are devoted to a vineyard or other agricultural purposes. The ZBA cited that requirement in its decision in July. 

The vineyard is split into two parcels, separated by South Harbor Road. The tasting room is located on 4.56 acres, while the other parcel is 9.371 acres. Croteaux Vineyards has 10.5 acres of vines, which were planted in 2003, according to the notice of claim.

“The ZBA’s failure to recognize that Parcel A and Parcel B are, for all intents and purposes, one parcel was irrational, arbitrary and capricious,” the notice of claim received by the town Wednesday states.

The ZBA cited resident complaints in determining that granting the variance would “produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood and a detriment to nearby properties.”

The notice of claim said the residents who oppose the vineyard unfairly blamed Crouteaux for noise, traffic and parking problems. 

Croteaux Vineyards contends that the ZBA “failed to properly consider substantial evidence in the record weighing in favor” of its operations and “ignored testimony from other neighbors in support” of the special permit application.

The ZBA, in its July determination, suggested the vineyard operate a winery and tasting room by acquiring space contiguous to a vineyard or in a business zone elsewhere in town, which would not require a variance.

Croteaux Vineyards found this “wholly irrational” and the ruling “ignores the reality” of its agricultural operation, according to the notice.

Croteaux Vineyards is requesting “relief from the requirements set forth” in the town’s zoning code.

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Photo credit: file photo

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