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Southold Town issues summonses to three wineries, food truck operators

Southold Town is making good on a promise to take action against food trucks operating at local wineries.

Code enforcement officers issued a total of nine summonses to both wineries and food trucks at three different locations last weekend, according to Southold Town Attorney William Duffy.  The wineries each received citations  for having a “non-permitted use” and a second for “violation of site plan,” Mr. Duffy said.  Each food truck operator also received a citation, he said. 

The move comes a little more than a month after a contentious public meeting at which Town Board members said the trucks are not allowed to operate in agricultural residential zones, including wineries. Officials previously said wineries would be notified prior to issuing any citation, but Giovanni Borghese, co-owner of Castello di Borghese Vineyard in Cutchogue, said that wasn’t the case for him.

“If you can’t send me a letter or give me a phone call saying, ‘this is the deal,’ then it was business as usual,” Mr. Borghese said. “I am not trying to be defiant. The rule was changed underneath our feet.”

Lenz and Pindar were the other local wineries issued summonses last week.

Mr. Duffy said it’s an issue of zoning and permitted uses.

“These properties are essentially zoned as residential areas and wineries are allowed to operate in these districts because they are agriculture operations, but brining in a food truck is not an allowed use — it is a commercial retail use,” Mr. Duffy said. “It is not about the winery. It is not about the food truck. It is about the zoning code.”

Mr. Duffy added that this past weekend isn’t the first time citations have been issued for food trucks at wineries, saying a summons was issued at one location earlier this year and at another last year. A food truck was also issued a summons for operating at a farm last year, he said.

Both Mr. Borghese and the owner of the food truck it hosted this weekend, Dany Waj of Chenza’s Cruzin Cuisine, said they are due to appear in Southold Town Justice Court next month.

“It’s gonna be a big deal,” Mr. Waj said of the court date, where he expects the other winery and food truck operators who have been issued violations to be present.

He added that the enforcement initiative last week was civil.

“The guys were really nice,” he said of the code enforcement officers. “They said they felt bad they even had to do it.”

One of the reasons the Town Board gave at last month’s meeting for cracking down on the practice is that there were several complaints from deli and restaurant owners that food trucks created an uneven playing field. Acting Long Island Wine Council director Steve Bate said Friday that he hasn’t heard any local restaurant complain publicly about the issue.

“It’s been unfortunate that all of a sudden they’re going to ban those types of activities,” Mr. Bate said. “Many of the food trucks that are operating are either from local restaurants or promoting local foods, and that should be another goal, another thing for the town to support.”

Previously a chef at restaurants in Greenport and on Shelter Island, Mr. Waj launched his truck earlier this year, serving lobster rolls, fish tacos and a popular hero he calls “The Chenza.” He sets up shop during the week near a kayak stand in Brookhaven hamlet and has been at Castello di Borghese in Cutchogue every Saturday and Sunday since June. The winery gig is a big part of his business, he said.

Mr. Waj said he has heard from people that restaurant owners are upset food trucks are setting up shop at local wineries, but he hasn’t heard directly from any restaurant owners on the issue. Winery patrons have told him they’re happy to have some food to eat on premises while they enjoy the wine.

Mr. Borghese said it’s in his customers’ best interest to serve food with alcohol.

“It is a social responsibility,” he said.

He added that he understands why the Town Board wants to curb retail sales of products other than wine at vineyards, but he questioned if food is part of the problem.

“We are not trying to sell cars,” he said.

Mr. Waj said he hopes to continue operating his food truck in Southold Town, which is home to about 30 wineries, but Mr. Borghese said he’ll have to suspend the current arrangement as he looks to navigate the issue with the town.

“I think there is a middle ground,” Mr. Borghese said. “I hope the Town is as interested in finding middle ground as we are.”

The food truck issue is the latest in a series of rocky relations between Southold Town and the local wine industry. In 2016, a proposal to place a moratorium on new winery applications in town while the town made adjustments to its code was halted after it was met with public and industry scrutiny. Then late last year the Town Board withdrew a proposal to amend the definition of a winery after the industry came out in force to oppose the suggested changes.

Earlier this month the Southold Town Board voted to assume the responsibility of approving special event permits — many of which involve wineries. Special events were previously approved by the chairperson of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Two wineries have also closed their tasting rooms in recent years after being denied zoning variances that would have allowed them to remain open despite not meeting acreage requirements.

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