08/01/13 8:00am
08/01/2013 8:00 AM

In a town where contentious issues can be the exception rather than the rule, Southold Town Board meetings can be ho-hum affairs. That certainly wasn’t the case this week, when the board hit the trifecta on thorny issues.

This week’s agenda included a vote on the long-pending special events code, a continuation of the often heated dogs-on-the-beach debate and choosing a date for a hearing on banning parking along Route 48 in the vicinity of Vineyard 48. Obviously, two of those agenda items come as part of the town’s ongoing battle with Vineyard 48, which has absolutely nothing to do with dogs on the beach. What they have in common, however, is all offer evidence that Southold isn’t what Southold was.

That is, unfortunately, not breaking news, but it’s both the upshot and the downside of being “discovered.”

Anyone who owns a dog knows how much enjoyment their pet can get cutting loose on the beach. It’s one of the simple joys and benefits of living out here. But so is the ability to sit and enjoy the beach in peace. More people can mean more pets and a greater chance of animal-human conflict. As anyone who’s followed this story knows, animal issues are often emotional issues in Southold, as they are elsewhere. We think the board did well in crafting a fair and workable solution that accommodates both sides.

The events law is a whole ’nother animal. The warring sides in this case are vineyards and other farmers, who say they’re trying new and innovative ways to remain financially viable, and residents who say the peaceful enjoyment of their properties is compromised by events not tied to traditional agriculture. In this case, the presence of more people, both on and off open fields, is at the root of the conflict.

Some ag industry representatives aren’t happy with the events law as adopted but, as with the leash law, the Town Board straddled a political picket fence and there was no way to satisfy everyone. It won’t take long, though, to learn if it works or if it chokes off ag economic opportunities.

As for the Route 48 parking ban, Vineyard 48 may not be pleased, but it’s clear something must be done; public safety always trumps parking convenience.

07/30/13 10:26pm
07/30/2013 10:26 PM

After a half hour of contentious debate, the Southold Town Board adopted a special events law to the “tremendous disappointment” of the Long Island Wine Council.

Members of the agricultural community criticized the draft law during a public two weeks ago when speakers offered numerous suggestions to amend the policy they said unfairly burdens businesses with fees and penalties for holding large events. Opponents of the bill said they were blindsided by the board’s decision to vote without incorporating any of their suggestions.

“The Town of Southold has chosen to burden the small businessman with time consuming applications and fees and to threaten them with burdensome fines and penalties,” said Sal Diliberto of the Long Island Wine Council. “The town should be doing things to benefit the industry, not limiting the ability of that industry to function in today’s difficult economic times.”

The law gives the town more control over events held at wineries and other properties and prevents an unlimited amount of special events from taking place at any one location. It would require a permit for any gathering that exceeds a building’s occupancy or parking capacity or is otherwise prohibited by the property’s zoning. A permit would also be required for events involving the closing of a public street, the use of amplified sound, the sale of food or merchandise, the placement of portable toilets and a number of other circumstances.

Fines for violators range from $500 to $5,000.

The agricultural community was not alone its opposition. For the first time, councilman Chris Talbot spoke out and voted against the law.

“There are changes that need to be made and I’m not supporting it,” he said. “The wine industry has grown this area. So many people come out here and spend their money. We are reaping all the benefits of these wineries and farms and for government, a Republican government, to throw another hurdle in the way of these businesses that are struggling to survive… I just have to say no to this law.”

The measure passed 5-1 with Mr. Talbot voting no.

Read more in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.

06/21/13 7:00am
06/21/2013 7:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said this week that ‘special events’ held every weekend at area farms and vineyards should not be classified as special events.

Southold’s contentious special events permit law is ready for public comment.

During its regular session Tuesday, the Town Board set a public hearing for a revised version of the proposal for July 16 at 4:30 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

The proposed law would give the town more control over special events at wineries and other agricultural properties. The measure comes in response to residents’ complaints about such events — most notably at Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue — and concern about the town’s options in addressing code violations.

“[The proposal] will limit these events, because if you have special events every Saturday and Sunday they are no longer special events, they are a business model,” said Supervisor Scott Russell.

The code change was shelved last year when representatives of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, an agency with the power to overturn local laws, found it placed undue restrictions on farming activities. But town attorney Martin Finnegan said the state agency supports the revised proposal.

The law would require a permit for any gathering that exceeds a building’s occupancy or parking capacity, or is prohibited by zoning. A permit would also be required for an event that involved the closing of a public street, the use of amplified sound, the sale of food or merchandise and the placement of portable toilets.

Town officials said permit fees would be based on the number of anticipated attendees: $150 for events with up to 500 attendees; $250 for events expecting 500 to 1,000 guests; and $350 when expected attendance exceeds 1,000 people. Permit applications would need to be submitted 60 days prior to the event or be subject to rejection or a $250 late fee.

The revised permit fees are significantly lower than those the town proposed last year. which ranged from $250 to $650.

In the past, critics have said the town has failed to clearly define what a special event is, forcing organizers of routine events to undergo burdensome permit procedures. Opponents also argue that limiting the events would decrease agritourism in the area. The Long Island Farm Bureau and Long Island Wine Council are among the groups that have expressed concern about the code changes.

“We are in talks with the town about the legislation,” said wine council president Ron Goerler Jr., owner of Jamesport Vineyards in Jamesport. “We all benefit from the amount of money generated by tourism. It’s a balancing act.”

The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals would administer the permits, as it does now. Events on town property or exceeding 1,000 attendees would also be subject to Town Board approval.

If the revised law is approved, event organizers who don’t get permits will pay fines ranging from $500 to $1,500. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $5,000.

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