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Spirited debate over St. James winery plan

Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio

Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio Credit: Handout, 2011

Supporters and detractors engaged in a heated debate last week on the merits of a St. James vineyard's proposal to hold wedding receptions, wine tastings and other events.

Opponents, speaking at a Smithtown Town board public hearing Thursday, said Whisper Vineyard's plan would bring increased traffic and late-night noise to their quiet neighborhood. Proponents at the meeting argued it would support existing businesses and attract new ones.

Smithtown officials have said the winery must obtain a special exception permit that would impose restrictions on attendance, hours, parking and loud music at events.

But vineyard representatives have questioned whether the farm needs the permit, saying it is exempt from town regulations under the state agriculture and markets law. Town and vineyard officials agreed to hold the hearing while they seek state guidance to settle their dispute.

Many homeowners at the hearing said the vineyard's plan is a thinly veiled attempt to open a catering business in a residential neighborhood.

"You're going to kill our home values," said Susan Rapp, an opponent of the winery plan, adding she lives 250 feet from the 53-acre farm on Edgewood Avenue. "You're taking away the quality of our lives."

The vineyard, part of Borella's Farm Stand, received support from some town residents, the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce and Long Island farming organizations. Commack resident Dan Damiano said the winery would preserve "greenery."

"We know these people, we know what they're about," he said. "The last thing I'd want to see is someone we don't know."

Wine industry representatives said farms must hold special events to stay in business.

"Parties are a critical part" of marketing, Long Island Wine Council executive director Steve Bate said at the hearing. "Vineyards really are not in the business of holding wild parties."

Councilmen Thomas McCarthy and Robert Creighton have said publicly that they would vote to approve the permit.

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio sparred with vineyard attorney Vincent Trimarco at the meeting, saying the winery had provided insufficient details about the events it plans to hold. "If you don't meet the legal requirements," Vecchio said, "how can someone vote for the special exception permit?"

Trimarco said the events would be "beneficial to the town [and] residents."

No date is set for a board vote on the permit application.

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