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Debate Over Wine Tasting Rooms, Farm Stand Continues at Town Hall

During a work session meeting on Thursday, Town Board members debated the best way to regulate wine tasting rooms and farm stands without opening loopholes in the town zoning code.

The debate over how to regulate the building of new farm stands and wine tasting rooms in Riverhead continued at Thursday's Town Board work session after a preliminary draft of new legislation by Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman George Gabrielsen drew praise and criticism from other board members.

The legislation as written would define "accessory use for agricultural production" as structures relating to locally produced agriculture products, "enhanced agriculture products," hand-made crafts, "pick-your-own" operations and agritourism. The new legislation would require at least a two-acre parcel to build the farm stand that must be combined with another parcel of at least seven-acres in the town of Riverhead that is "actively used" for agricultural production. Farms less than seven-acres would be allowed an "accessory use" if they were designated as agriculture properties for tax purposes.

The legislation would allow for the farmer to sell non-local goods at the hypothetical farm stand or wine-tasting room, but would have to limit sales to 40 percent of their "total merchandising area."

In October, an earlier version of the legislation was brought to a public hearing, where local businessmen and farmers to their farms and wineries.

Supervisor Sean Walter said at that meeting that the law would need to be dropped or at least rethought due to the overwhelming objections from the community.

Walter criticized the current draft as being too vague at Thursday's meeting. He argued that a person in Riverhead could build a pizza parlor and claim it was an "accessory use" if they produced their own cheese or tomatoes for the pizzas. He also said the 40 percent maximum for non-local products would be difficult to enforce.

"You'll see pizza places pop up all along Sound Avenue," he said. "This basically means there's no zoning for Sound Avenue." Walter said a sushi bar wouldn't be out of the question since a skilled lawyer could argue the owner was "farming" fish.

Gabrielsen said he didn't believe those were realistic scenarios, and added that the proposed legislation would mirror the state's Agriculture and Markets law. The proposed town legislation also had the backing of the Long Island Farm Bureau, Gabrielsen said.

Walter replied that the loopholes in the legislation were too big, and that if he "put his lawyer hat on" he could "run a truck through this legislation." Dunleavy agreed with Walter, and said he was concerned that any loopholes would lead to more construction and competition around farmers on Sound Avenue.

Gabrielsen and Giglio suggested the town specifically limit certain types of "accessory uses," like sushi bars and pizza parlors, in the legislation. The Town Board agreed to discuss the proposed law further at a later date before moving forward.

ABetterWayforRiverhead January 06, 2012 at 09:29 PM
I believe the Long Island Farm Bureau honorable serves the interests of both the farming community and the community-at-large.
mike foley January 07, 2012 at 12:56 PM
I think Sean is right on the money! The language needs to be air tight. I have no problem allowing Farmers + Vineyards to sell their crops on site--why allow them to augment their crops with 40% of their space allowed for non crop items?? Let the customer go to local stores for the other 40%! Good job,Sean!

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