Home Business Business News Zoning board of appeals adjourns Southold Farm + Cellar hearing — again

Zoning board of appeals adjourns Southold Farm + Cellar hearing — again

Regan and Carey Meador just before a ZBA meeting in November. File photo

After having their tasting room shut down by town officials during the busiest months of the season and facing numerous adjournments in past months, the owners of Southold Farm + Cellar were once again told they’d have to come back before the zoning board of appeals for a public hearing next month.

According to zoning board of appeals chair Leslie Weisman, yesterday’s scheduled public hearing was improperly noticed, mentioning only front yard setbacks and not the issue of bulk schedule, which was brought up by both the town and neighbor Allison Latham.

Assistant Town Attorney Stephen Kiely explained that the original notice of disapproval noticed was missing a variance that’s required, the bulk schedule, which says that two acres each are required for both a residence and a winery.

Currently, he said, a farmhouse exists on one acre, on a preexisting non-conforming lot, but two would be needed; the Meadors cannot just buy adjacent property to meet the requirements because development rights on that land have been sold and covenants and restrictions on that parcel will not allow for retail or processing. This needed to be explained to the building department, Kiely said, and the ZBA matter needed to be re-noticed.

In addition, he said, Latham also filed an application to the ZBA challenging the notice of disapproval; the town, he said, felt the “notice of disapproval was lacking, as well.”

Attorney Pat Moore told the ZBA that the number of adjournments was “a travesty” and had financial impacts to the Carey and Regan Meador. Their recent grape harvest had to take place outside and not in the barn, she said.

Weisman said she agreed matters usually move more expeditiously but they needed to follow the law.

Keily, after the ZBA meeting, said he took exception to Moore’s comments, because the Meadors have been open for operation again since September and he questioned the issue of financial “hardship.”

The reason the Meadors were able to open again, he said, because state law says that if an application is before the ZBA, a stay is in place, preventing the town from taking enforcement action.

The matter was rescheduled, with a new ZBA public hearing on December 3.

After the latest adjournment, Regan Meador said he was “crestfallen. It’s just frustrating.”

While he said he understands that “people are nervous about wineries now,” he wants to emphasize what he has, from the start — that “the tasting room is really not the driver of our business, nor do we want it to be.”

Their business, he said, “is not different than a farmstand. And if we’re successful enough, we don’t need the farmstand. We can sell it all directly.”

The way their wine is produced, he said, “We’re not scaleable. It’s not like I can up production tomorrow.”

The past harvest, he said, has been spent in “less than ideal conditions,” although being able to harvest this year “saved us,” he said.

The ZBA obstacles have meant financial impacts, however: “We’ve already had to forego planting more vineyards. We were going to plant more next year. Now that’s just not going to be possible,” he said. “I don’t know when we’re going to be able to do that.”

Meador insists he always been upfront about his plans for the business. “We’ve never tried to fool anyone. We’re a small place, and it can’t handle crowds. We’re willing to put safeguards in place to prevent crowds, should it ever change hands.”

Looking ahead, Meador said he’s “terrified,” with the planning department process still to navigate. “All I want is just a barn, to make some wine, that’s it. We are who we say we are. This isn’t fake. You don’t put this kind of sweat equity into something to flip it.”

Should the roadblocks continue, Meador said he could always start a U-pick pumpkin patch. “Is that what the town needs? But that’s allowed,” he said.

Down the line, “If we’re not allowed to do what we’ve proposed, our model starts to fall apart, and I don’t know what will happen to us.”

The couple has talked about moving to another place, but his wife’s home is here, as well as her parents. “We’ve put too much work into this,” he said.

In September, the Meadors reopened. But Southold Town officials said they did so without necessary approvals.

An announcement on the business’ Facebook page said the winery and tasting room are open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

“After spending the last two months working with various agencies, organizations and the Town of Southold, we took the proactive steps this week to mitigate the major issues facing our property and our operation,” a message on the page said.

“Now, with only one issue facing the zoning board and our every intention to move forward quickly and completely with the planning department we have decided to re-open our doors. In doing so we will not only be able to get back to speaking with each of you about our wines — including two new ones, stay tuned — but also be able to generate the revenue necessary to keep us afloat and pay for the upcoming harvest, our first and the first for a couple varieties ever on the North Fork. The last few months have been a great education for us and as we’ve said before, we look forward to being an asset to this town.”

The note was signed by Regan, Carey, Coralai and Sawyer Meador.

The Meadors opened without any approval from the town, Southold Town Attorney Bill Duffy said in Setember. But, because there is a zoning board of appeals application pending, “Under town law, we can’t bring enforcement efforts. They found a loophole in the law.”

If the ZBA rules against the application, Duffy said, the town can then commence enforcement action.

In August, the public turned out in a big way to support the young local couple whose winery’s tasting room was shut down by Southold Town code enforcement in July.

A zoning board of appeals hearing was held at Town Hall, and after a Facebook shout out for support for the Meadors and Southold Farm + Cellar, friends, neighbors, and even some who had never met the couple showed up in support of keeping farming alive.

According to Southold’s Chief Building Inspector Mike Verity, in July, code enforcement was sent out per his direction to Southold Farm + Cellar, a winery located at 860 Old North Road in Southold that he said has been the subject of multiple complaints.

Verity said as per normal procedure, the town asked for voluntary compliance. The business, he said, has only a certificate of occupancy for a single family dwelling. A winery and tasting room had been operating on the property since last year.

The Meadors received a notice of disapproval for a building permit for construction of an agricultural production building at less than the code minimum required setback of 100 feet from a major road.

The Meadors are seeking variances for conversion of an existing building to a tasting room and construction of a new winery building at less than the code required minimum of 100 feet from a major road and a winery building located on a parcel less than the code required minimum of 10 acres. Also, the winery/tasting room constitutes more than one principal use; the winery building at less than the code required minimum rear year setback of 60 feet and the tasting room at less than the code required minimum rear yard setback of 60 feet, according to the ZBA.

At the hearing, Moore spoke about the business, a “boutique, handcrafted” winery, where the couple grows their own grapes. “They’re the newest generation of wine producers,” she said.

The site, she said, qualifies for area variances because “it’s not a typical winery.” Wine tasting, she said, is a supported mechanism in the town code, so individuals can taste the agricultural product, much as they watermelon or any other crop.

The Meadors are seeking area variances to construct a processing facility, and to keep the 400 square foot tasting room where it is currently is sited.

Weisman said as it stands, tasting rooms are only allowed as an accessory to a winery or in a commercial zoning district. Moore said the definition of “winery” was important.

ZBA member Kenneth Schneider asked if the address on the farm winery license was the Meadors’ residence, they said it was. He said he thought the business was “great, it’s just where you want to do it. You are running a winery on your property illegally,” he said.

Moore once again said the definition of “winery” was critical and said that according to the state definition, it was. Schneider said state definition or not, the use was not allowed under town code.

Over the years, Moore said, across the country, farmers have grown up on family homesteads and lived on the land, selling their crops.

Schneider said this “is different,” because alcohol was sold.

“I respectfully disagree,” Meador said, noting that across the world, notions of tasting rooms are quite different than in the United States. In France, for example, he said, most wineries do not have tasting rooms. “The notion of tasting rooms is very, very new,” he said, and the “cavalcade of tasting rooms and grandiose tasting rooms” seen on the North Fork are “a fairly new endeavor.”

While he said those businesses can be fairly lucrative he did not feel it necessary to have a winery at that scale.

“We’re now getting to the point where wine stands on its own. We don’t have to entertain people for them to buy or consume our wine. I want to be part of that change,” Meador said. He added that the small scale gives him the ability to have control over small lot production.

After a business trip to California, Meador said the goal “is very much about getting wines past our borders and not having it consumed on our property. This just gives us the ability to support our family so my wife doesn’t have to commute into the city, and so that we can make this a sustainable business for us.”

Weisman said she respected and appreciate what the Meadors are trying to do. “We are neighbors; we know we are living in an agricultural area and we’re lucky to do so. It’s worth fighting to preserve. There’s no one here that would not support what you want to do. But what we need to look at is whether this one acre of property can actually support those activities.”

Residents turned out in force to support not only the Meadors, but their business model and the future of agriculture in Southold.