Southold Town, in the aftermath of a tragic limousine crash on its increasingly busy roads, is considering a temporary halt on new wineries, breweries and distilleries as the number of the facilities continues to increase on the North Fork.
Southold is the center of Long Island wine country, hosting 34 of the Island’s 47 wineries. Two breweries are scheduled to join one that’s already in town and there’s one “moonshine” distillery in place.
“These are industries that are built around drinking,” Supervisor Scott Russell said in an interview Wednesday. “At what point does the sponge become full?”
Russell said the moratorium, first reported in Suffolk Times, would last six months, with three-month extensions as needed until the upgraded town code can be hammered out, with public hearings for each change.
At least one group has taken a stand against the move.
“We’re very concerned about it,” said Rob Carpenter, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, which represents Nassau and Suffolk agricultural interests. “We think there’s room to work with the town and affected individuals to come up with something without a moratorium.”
Ali Tuthill, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, another trade group, said the group would “probably not” favor a moratorium.
“We are actively engaging with the town to get more information,” she said. “Right now it’s an idea but not a lot of information has been put forth. We certainly believe in making sure our industry has the ability to grow and thrive.”
Any moratorium would be at least a month away. The Southold town board, which must approve the move, would have to hold a public hearing first, with 30 days notice of the hearing.
Russell said he has met with industry officials to start a dialog on an updated town code that considers the growth of wineries in the past four decades and burgeoning breweries and distilleries. The moratorium, Russell said, would open a years-long dialogue with the winery industry to a broader public discussion, which he said has been lacking. “This is their future,” he said.
Russell said his main beef is the town code, which sets rules for how the businesses can build, operate and grow.
“The code is so lacking, it doesn’t even contain a definition of a winery, brewery, distillery, agricultural retailing,” he said.
Worse, he said, the existing code is either too vague or conflicts with other sections of the code.
“We need to establish definitions, clean up the code and start answering hard questions like, Where do we see these operations in the town’s future? We need to carefully consider the benefits with the cumulative impacts on our community. Do we want to see breweries or distilleries expand into our agricultural zones alongside of wineries?”