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Special events hearing canceled in Southold, business owners still weigh in

The Southold Town Board voted to rescind a public hearing on amendments to special events legislation that was set for its Tuesday afternoon meeting.

Although the hearing was canceled, business owners and managers stayed to speak during the open portion of the meeting. The discussion focused largely on the need for better communication between business and the town when it comes to drafting legislation.

Prudence Heston of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue said changes to the special events law affected a “tremendous number of businesses in this community” and people wanted the opportunity to talk about it. The hearing had already been rescheduled twice due to winter storms. She noted that those who had come Tuesday night to participate in the hearing were not just farm operators, but representatives from vineyards, catering and tent companies and other businesses.

Mr. Russell said the Town Board had received a letter from concerned parties only the day before the public hearing was set to take place. He said the legislation could have been put on hold if anyone with concerns reached out to the Town Board before a public hearing.

“You don’t have to wait until the 11th hour,” he said. The Town Board needs people to participate in code committee hearings or reach out before a draft law is finalized, he said.

Karl Novak, president of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said there was a feeling the amendments constituted more than an administrative change and could adversely affect the business community. He asked that the Town Board reach out to the farm bureau on such legislation.

“We’re willing to work with you, we want to work with you,” Mr. Novak said.

Some asked that the town do more to make people aware of code committee meetings.

Others who spoke, such as Mike Falcetta, general manager of Sparkling Pointe Vineyards & Winery and Anthony Sannino of Sannino Vineyards, asked for clarity as to what happens going forward.

Any revisions to the special events code, town officials explained, will start from scratch and will be discussed at a code committee hearing, where the public can give input, and Town Board work sessions, then be approved for public hearing once a new draft is finalized. All meetings are posted on the town website.

Now that the town has had several years’ experience with the current special events code, changes can be made and the code as a whole can be reviewed, Mr. Russell said.

Mr. Falcetta suggested that permit applications themselves be reconsidered, as it is sometimes unrealistic for weddings when details, such as caterers, are only worked out after securing a date and can’t be included on an application from the outset.

Special events are needed for businesses to stay viable in town and pay taxes and mortgages, said Katie Sepenoski of Sep’s Farms in East Marion. She said there is a concern about regulation or added layers to the process.

Proposed changes in the legislation were by and large administrative, Mr. Russell said. They included making the Town Board the body that approves or denies applications — a responsibility that currently lies with chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The amendments put forth to the public also included removing a provision that allows a single permit for up to six recurring events or a series of similar events in a three-month period. That provision had been was included due to a miscommunication with the town attorney, he said.

“The Town Board needs to address that,” the supervisor said Tuesday. Some people were submitting applications for permits, not for events, but to secure dates, and “we need to close that loophole,” Mr. Russell said.

Agricultural advisory committee chairman Chris Baiz, along with four committee members, mentioned that concerns about that provision, and others, had been raised at the Town Board’s Tuesday morning work session.

Councilman William Ruland suggested that, going forward, if a code committee hearing on amending the special events code is scheduled, it be held in the evening so that business owners have a better chance at attending.

Photo credit: The Southold Town Board will go back to the drawing board on revising the special events code. (Credit: Kelly Zegers) 

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