Southold Town has taken Santa to court.
A state judge issued a restraining order against Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm in Cutchogue after town officials alleged the evergreen grower was operating outside the scope of its farm-stand permit.
The Main Road business features an 8,064-square-foot building that's open from April through January as a Christmas décor store in addition to selling Christmas trees, according to its website and a complaint filed in State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Dec. 14.
Southold Town requires that 60 percent of merchandise sold at farm stands be grown by the farm. Town code also limits the size of farm stands to 3,000 square feet.
Town code enforcement officer Michael Chih, after a Nov. 25 inspection of the operation, estimated that 75 percent to 80 percent of Santa's Christmas Tree Farm's merchandise for sale consisted of nonagricultural products not grown by Santa’s. Chih also determined the business used almost the entire building as retail space, according to the lawsuit.
“I observed commercially manufactured Christmas lights, hand-made wallets and purses, miniature Santa Villages, pre-packaged toys and candles, artificial Christmas trees and wreaths,” Chih said in a supporting affidavit. “I also observed the presence of third-party vendors selling candles, pickles and beef jerky, which were not produced by the farm stand operator.”
A restraining order issued by New York State Supreme Court Justice William B. Rebolini bars Santa’s from operating a farm stand larger than 3,000-square-feet or hosting third-party vendors — specifically listing pickle and beef jerky sellers — until the case can be heard on Jan. 2.
According to its website, the store is 2,500 square feet. A 2010 town Zoning Board of Appeals said Santa's could legally operate its farm stand as long as it keeps the retail space less than 2,998 square feet and is open only from Labor Day through March. Failing to meet those requirements could trigger the need for a new application and public hearing before the zoning board.
"They are currently open for business and they look forward to Christmas," said Santa's attorney Anthony Palumbo. "I'm sure we'll sort this out quickly with the town."
The 28-acre farm is for sale with a listing price of $2.499 million, according to online real estate listings with multiple agencies.
The town asks in the court filing that Santa's be permanently prevented from operating a business that violates town code.
Town attorney Bill Duffy said the town is not looking to shutter the business, but to ensure it complies with the law.
"We think it's important that we defend our town code," he said. "It creates a fair playing field for all businesses."