Town’s alcohol farm products working group aims to strike balance

Southold Town’s alcohol farm products working group faces a hefty task. Since May, the group has been trying to develop recommendations on how town code should address wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries.

The group comprises people with different backgrounds, including residents and industry members, past and present. It’s current members include Louisa Hargrave, a pioneer of Long Island’s wine industry, and Ian VanBourgondien, whose family has been growing in local greenhouses since 1939.

“There’s so much to take in and go over,” working group chairperson Frank Purita of One Woman Wines and Vineyards in Southold said after a meeting Monday.

Striking a “balance between promoting agriculture and preserving our way of life out here” is a major challenge, Mr. Purita said. “How do we promote all this land that’s been preserved?”

He added, however, that he feels the group has made some headway in its past two meetings.

Last month, the group voted on recommendations pertaining to the town’s current requirement that wineries to have at least 10 acres committed to agricultural production.

Supervisor Scott Russell said last week that a code committee will consider an amendment to that requirement, allowing the acreage to be split into 80 percent grapes and 20 percent fermentable fruit.

The group, which the supervisor called “a work in progress,” is set to disband in November, when it was originally scheduled to deliver a package of recommendations to the Town Board. It will likely be extended and recommendations are more likely to be delivered as the committee comes to a consensus, Mr. Russell said.

“The goal of that committee, when we originally created it, isn’t to promote the winery industry and it’s not there to injure the winery industry or any of the others, breweries,” he said. “The idea is just to develop common sense code language so that we have the appropriate code in place, zoning in place, over the 20 or 30 years. That’s where the difficulty comes in — in balancing those issues and looking at them objectively.”

Ultimately, the Town Board will have to decide what the policies should be. Each recommendation is one in a series of initiatives, Mr. Russell said.

“People need to understand you can’t include every circumstance under one definition or one law,” he said.

Earlier meetings were spent working to get all members up to speed on how the industries they are considering work, as well as breaking down what current town zoning codes allow. Time has also been spent on housekeeping discussions to figure out meeting procedures and parliamentary rules.

Minutes from previous meetings show that planning department staff and the supervisor have attended to explain current zoning. The group also planned trips to three wineries of different sizes to gather information on parking and other winery requirements, according to the minutes.

The group has considered ideas suggested by members such as allowing for “micro wineries,” which might be favorable to young people or others on a budget trying to get a foothold in the industry.

Other members of the group include Joann Maynard of Southold, Nancy Torchio of Cutchogue, Anne Murray of the East Marion Community Association, Kristina Gabrielsen of Gabrielsen’s Country Plant Farm and Will Lee of Sang Lee Farms.

At its inaugural meeting in April, the supervisor advised the group that when the code was created it was both vague and limited in scope, giving rough parameters for establishing and operating wineries on agricultural land. Current town code, he said, does not mention distilleries, breweries or cideries at all.

“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 told group members.

Photo caption: The alcohol farm products working group at a recent meeting. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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