Editorial: Orient residents’ questions must be answered

This week was a big one for many Orient residents.

On Monday night, and again on Tuesday, residents of the hamlet at the tip of the North Fork rose up and spoke their minds to elected and appointed Southold Town officials about what they would not accept for the beautiful land and vistas in their community.

And while these discussions were entirely local and confined to Orient, they have far larger meaning for Southold Town. Questions were asked that town officials must now answer. That is why this week in town government, brought to you by an energized, motivated group, was so important.

The backdrop of their complaints go to such critical questions as what are the proper uses for preserved farmland and what is an acceptable definition of what was derisively referred to at Monday night’s town Planning Board meeting as “agri-tainment”?

Beyond that, there is the question of what we, as residents of a town many of us still consider “rural” in nature, have to accept as the new reality. Large concerts on farmland? Events that draw crowds to already overcrowded roads? Loud music? Limousines far too big for our roads turning into vineyards built atop what used to be potato farms?

Monday night’s Planning Board meeting brought a standing-room-only crowd to Town Hall. On the agenda: discussion of a proposal by Manhattan-based Fresh & Co. to build a large barn on a 34.5-acre farm — 29.5 acres of which are preserved and spared from development — where pigs and other farm animals would be raised for their meat.

Members of the Orient Association and others lined up at two podiums to tell the Planning Board that this proposal was far too big for the site and that its proposed uses are incompatible with preserved land in the hamlet. Speaker after speaker denounced the plan to raise farm animals there as a threat to the very fragile waters of Hallocks Bay, where shellfishing has made a comeback.

The speakers at the Monday night meeting were united. They don’t want the Fresh & Co. proposal approved. They also don’t want it downsized. Many speakers said the proposal was a stalking horse for larger events they put under the umbrella of “agri-tainment.”

On Tuesday evening, the Town Board moved to take legal action to shut down a camping and musical festival in Orient known as Burning Kouch — yes, that is how it’s spelled. The festival, which dates back to 2010, typically attracts between 150 and 400 people, according to an online description of the event.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said no special event permit had been filed for the event and that the Town Board did not support it.

“From our perspective, it is not a permitted event,” he said. “The town is willing to pursue any and all legal means necessary to make them understand that, in our view, it’s simply not allowed.”

The festival has taken place on a 90-acre farm in Orient and features musical performances, beach outings, barbecues and other activities. Orient residents raised concerns about the festival, saying litter along Narrow River Road has been a problem at past events, along with trespassing on marina property and vandalism to boats.

On Thursday, event organizers posted an update on the CouchSurfing page saying the event was canceled.

Southold Town is at a crossroads. What it wants to be, what it wants to retain and preserve, are issues that must be addressed now. What is farmland for? What is a winery? What kinds of events can be held at wineries? What do we want to look like?

This week, the mini-revolt by the residents of Orient put an exclamation mark on those questions.