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Public hearing on Southold’s wineries sure to stir debate Tuesday

Some members of Southold Town’s alcohol farm products working group are concerned about proposed amendments to town code that would, among other things, require that wineries use 80 percent of their own grapes in their products.

The proposal, which is set for a public hearing Tuesday, Dec. 5, defines a winery as premises where wine is “produced, processed and sold.” In addition, it requires that at least 10 acres be devoted “to the growing of wine grapes,” instead of the current language stating “vineyard and other agricultural purposes.”

At Monday’s working group meeting, some members expressed frustration that a public hearing had been set on a measure they did not put forward.

“It’s hard for me to understand how this has gone forward to the code committee and the scheduling of a public hearing in a way that doesn’t reflect the work that we’ve been doing on this committee,” said working group member Louisa Hargrave, a founder of the local wine industry.

“If you’ve already got it written, don’t ask us to do the work for you — that’s my feeling,” she added.

Speaking at Monday’s group meeting, Ms. Hargrave, a co-owner of the former Hargrave Vineyard, said she thinks the Town Board’s proposed measure would “completely upend” the wine industry and local agriculture.

Many vineyards need to create cash flow by selling their fruit, she said. One might have too much merlot and buy or trade it for a different type of grape, she said. Using 80 percent of grapes grown at a winery would “put you out of business.”

A closer look

If passed, the town code amendments to be discussed at next week’s public hearing would:

• require that 80 percent of the grapes contained in wine produced by a given winery be grown on its premises or on other land owned by the winery

• require that at least 10 acres be devoted “to the growing of wine grapes” and that those 10 acres are “in addition to any land where structures are to be built and should not be included in calculations as to whether the lot size conforms to the bulk schedule for the proposed use or uses on the parcel.”

• allow 20 percent of wine sold at a winery to be from other Long Island wineries.

The public hearing is set for Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at Southold Town Hall.

Group member Nancy Torchio of Cutchogue said she feels the group should have a framework before moving forward on the code.

“The way we were looking at it was, let’s put together a framework of what we think the future should look like and that would then translate into the code,” Ms. Torchio said. “In my view we’re backfilling.”

Supervisor Scott Russell, who attended the meeting, said the Town Board is trying to govern the wine industry with consistency.

“We’re trying to create one standard as best we can for all of them, recognizing that each of them has certain unique needs that we also need to factor into the equation,” Mr. Russell said.

At the start of the meeting, assistant town planning director Mark Terry said he wanted to hear about the group’s progress on defining what elements comprise a winery.

He explained that with recent winery applications before the Planning Board, issues have popped up late in the planning process for which there are no guidelines in the code. This forces the Planning Board to write many covenants and restrictions “more specific to that site than we’ve ever done before,” such as regulating the number of special events and limousines on site, Mr. Terry said. He added that winery applications are also on the rise.

Later in the meeting, Mr. Russell said there’s a lack of definition and oversight in the code and he doesn’t think the Planning Board should be making decisions based on Zoning Board of Appeals rulings, but that they also should not be ignored. The proposed code amendment codifies recent ZBA decisions, he said.

Mr. Russell said holding the public hearing does not mean the Town Board has to take action on the measure.
“Ultimately, the town wanted to move on something,” he said. “Don’t forget, this committee expires at the end of December and we
were hoping to have something that we could adopt.”

Ms. Hargrave said the group is ready to work toward that, but its work is not done.

Group member Anne Murray of East Marion suggested at Monday’s meeting that the Town Board be approached about extending the group’s term into next year.

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