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Northport vineyard proposal near school gets state boost

Frederick Giachetti stands on the land where he

Frederick Giachetti stands on the land where he wants to start a 10-acre vineyard and wine-tasting room on Norwood Road in Northport, Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

A plan to open a vineyard and tasting room near a Northport elementary school is allowed under state law, and Huntington officials were unreasonably restrictive to the landowner’s efforts to launch the business, a state agency has said in a preliminary response.

In a letter dated May 10, the Department of Agriculture and Markets found that some of the town planning board requirements for Del Vino Vineyards were “unreasonably restrictive of the vineyard farm operation” under state law and imposed “significant additional costs.” The 10-acre vineyard has been controversial, primarily due to its proximity to Norwood Avenue Elementary School.

Huntington officials said they will review the letter before commenting.

Property owner Frederick Giachetti asked the state agency in February to formally review the town’s blocking of his application to open the boutique vineyard and tasting room, which is included in a Suffolk County agricultural district.

The planning board sought more than a dozen revisions to the farm’s site plan, including a detailed environmental review, traffic study, landscaping plans and relocating the parking area.

The Department of Agriculture and Markets agreed with Giachetti on several issues, finding that many of the requested revisions and language in town code were unreasonably restrictive for a farm protected under New York State agricultural law.

“It [the letter] does indicate that the town was unreasonable in its process, procedures, as well as the administration of the town code — not only by the planning department and the planning board, but also the town as a whole,” Giachetti said.

Huntington Supervisor Frank P. Petrone wrote to the Suffolk County Legislature in December, calling for lawmakers to repeal their inclusion of Del Vino in an agricultural district. He said it “usurped” town authority, and that county lawmakers did not understand the extent to which their approval would limit local control of the project.

Town officials also responded to Giachetti’s claims in a March letter to the state agency, saying they did not overstep their authority, and that agricultural status doesn’t exempt the vineyard from all local oversight.

New York agriculture law precludes local governments from creating regulations that “unreasonably restrict or regulate farm operations within agricultural districts.” The law has a caveat for local government intervention in cases where public health or safety is threatened.

Agriculture officials said in the letter that they “would like to work with the town and the Planning Board to resolve the concerns.” Huntington officials have 30 days to respond.

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