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Surrey Lane Vineyard takes legal action against Planning Board

Surrey Lane Vineyard, which is looking to build a winery in Southold, is suing the Southold Planning Board, accusing the board of violating state Public Officers Law in issuing a letter requiring a traffic safety analysis, according to court papers filed in New York State Supreme Court on Monday. 

The notice of claim calls the Planning Board’s July 14 letter calling for a traffic analysis a violation of state law and was “arbitrary and capricious” and “an abuse of discretion.”

Surrey Lane is seeking to annul the traffic safety requirement and to require the board’s members to attend training classes concerning their obligations under state Public Officers Law. The court action also seeks to enjoin the board “from further violations of the Public Officers Law,” according to the notice of claim.

Surrey Lane also argues that the July 14 letter was not approved or voted upon at an open public meeting, as required by open meetings laws, according to court papers.

No other wineries in the site plan process for them were required to perform traffic safety studies, Surrey Lane argues. Additionally, requiring a traffic study after a negative SEQRA declaration determining that the proposed 3,589 square-foot winery would have no environmental impact was “in response to political pressure to delay approvals of farm wineries,” according to the court papers.

Prior coverage: Residents have their say on application

Prior coverage: Planning Board hosts hearings

A final public hearing on Surrey Lane’s site plan was held and closed on June 5. The minutes were not made available to the public, despite passage of more than 14 days from the date of the meeting, which Open Meetings Law requires, according to the suit.

Minutes from a June 26 meeting were also not made public, according to the notice. Surrey Lane wrote to the board to remind them of open meetings requirement, according to the notice.

Surrey Lane applied to the Building Department in July 2016 seeking to build a winery. The application was not approved because it needed site plan approval from the Planning Board, according to the notice of claim. In December, the Planning Board announced its intention to vote on a resolution to seek an interpretation from the Zoning Board of Appeals on what constituted a “winery” under town code, which Surrey Lane opposed, according of the notice.

In January, the Planning Board sent a memorandum to the ZBA that, in part, sought interpretation of the definition of “wine production” and “wine tasting,” generally and how they applied to Surrey Lane under the code. Surrey Lane challenged the referral in court, arguing the Planning Board did not follow proper public procedure to do so, according to court papers. The matter was settled in May and the memorandum was withdrawn.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he does not comment on pending litigation, but generally speaking, “The Planning Board is charged with the responsibility of providing for public health, safety and welfare. Traffic is a huge component.”

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