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Huntington says it didn’t unfairly block Northport vineyard

The 10-acre plot in Northport that owner Frederick

The 10-acre plot in Northport that owner Frederick Giachetti, of Huntington, wants to turn into a boutique wine operation is pictured on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Huntington officials have rejected claims that they overstepped their authority and blocked the development of a vineyard and tasting room that would operate next door to a Northport elementary school, according to a March 15 letter to the state.

The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets is reviewing town officials’ handling of the application for Del Vino Vineyards, a 10-acre plot in Northport that owner Frederick Giachetti of Northport wants to turn into a boutique wine operation.

Giachetti contends Huntington officials didn’t comply with state laws meant to protect farms and open spaces by limiting local governments’ regulatory authority over land in county agricultural districts.

New York agriculture law prohibits local governments from creating regulations that “unreasonably restrict or regulate farm operations within agricultural districts.”

Giachetti asked the state agency in February to formally review the town’s handling of the application for Del Vino, part of a Suffolk County agricultural district, for compliance with that law.

Giachetti went to the state after the Huntington planning board asked him to make more than a dozen changes to his site plan, many of which he and his attorney say are outside the scope of the town’s authority over Del Vino as a farm.

The same law includes a caveat allowing for local government intervention when public health or safety is threatened.

Town planning board members have said that could be a way in to asserting their authority to require Del Vino to complete things like environmental or traffic studies.

In the town’s response to the Department of Agriculture, officials also cited a section of state law on local government, which they said means agricultural status doesn’t exempt the vineyard from certain things, such as applying for local site plan review, zoning board variances, building permits and other local land use approvals.

The letter went on to say that town officials don’t object to Del Vino growing grapes — but they want authority on things related to the production and serving of wine, and any new construction or expansions.

Town officials criticized Del Vino in the letter for not being more forthcoming about those intentions in its first presentation to officials.

“Del Vino very specifically said it was seeking site plan approval to establish a ‘farm for growing grapes (vineyard),’ ” the town’s letter said.

Del Vino has had opposition from Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone, the Northport-East Northport School District, and many others in the community.

Petrone wrote to the state Legislature in December, calling on them to repeal the vote granting Del Vino agricultural status, saying it “usurped” the town’s authority over the project.

Major objections from the community and school district have been about proximity: Del Vino is 350 feet away from Norwood Avenue Elementary School. The district has called for more thorough studies before the project moves forward — including traffic and environmental research.

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