Roughly a year after town officials created a special task force to draft legislation for special events at private businesses, it seems that representatives of both sides — those who may find themselves holding special events often, and those who may not — remain unhappy.
Last summer, winemakers, local vendors, and restaurateurs found their way to Southold Town Hall in response to warning letters the town issued to wineries for violating town code which regulated food sold on premises.
After a year of meetings by a small task force set out to solve the issue, the legislation is currently in draft form and was written by Town Attorney Martin Finnegan. The current code is limited to regulating events on town-owned land and outdoor events at wineries only.
“The current code is limited in scope and not sufficient to address the health and safety impacts that flow from current-day events throughout the Town of Southold,” Finnegan said.
President and Ron Goerler said he feels that the new code is overly restrictive and will affect the daily operations of his business. “Why strip businesses that bring people here and help other businesses grow?” he said.
For Eric Russell, who owns in Southold, the new legislation does nothing that will change what is already in the existing code.
“What I’m against is the wineries leveraging their tasting rooms into businesses other than the sale and marketing of wine,” said Russell. “I don’t think the new legislation does anything … The town has a history of not enforcing things at some wineries.”
According to Finnegan, the legislation is not intended to make it harder to conduct business, but to provide businesses with a mechanism to host events, some of which are currently not allowed under town zoning laws.
“This legislation is not directed at wineries, nor drafted to stifle their normal business activities that are permissible by the State Liquor Authority or sanctioned by the Department of Agriculture and Markets,” he explained.
For Goerler however, it comes down to economics. “The wine industry on the North Fork employs about 1,000 people. According to a recent study, each wedding held on the North Fork brings $100,000 into the local economy. It’s frustrating when the town tries to stop growth and prevent small business from succeeding,” Goerler explained. Conversely, Russell believes that the wineries shouldn’t have special rules just because they draw tourists to the area.
“I’ve been out here a long time and I’ve done a lot better off the ferry than I have off the wineries. We’ve had a tourist trade out here forever. The wineries have added to it, the revitalization of Greenport has added to it, the ferry has added to it,” he said.
Finnegan stressed that the Town has invited input from the LI Wine Council and other local business groups throughout the process of developing the draft legislation and will continue to do so.
Russell hopes that the legislation will help to define what is a proper activity in terms of marketing wine. “Is their goal to market their brand and sell their wine? Or is their goal to get people on their site and drink their wine and buy food and turn their picnic area into party sites?”
The draft legislation was presented before the Town Board last Tuesday, and then sent back to Finnegan for more revisions. It is expected that the legislation move between the Town Attorney, Special Events Task Force, and Town Board until a piece of legislation that all parties can work with is met.