Baiting Hollow residents are alarmed by a proposal to site a hard cider production/bottling facility and tasting room at the Grapes and Greens warehouse on Sound Avenue.

The plan is advanced by site owner J. Kings Food Service Professionals and Andy Calimano of Starfish Junction Productions, a Bay Shore marketing an event company that produces, among others, the “Pour the Core” hard cider tasting festival.

Greg Ferraro of J. Kings and Andy Calimano of Starfish Junction Productions told the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency earlier this month they’d like to develop “a destination cider-making, bottling and tasting facility” there, according to a News-Review report.

Neighboring residents fear the Grapes and Greens site will be a “tourist magnet” that will draw crowds and increase traffic on the already-congested Sound Avenue.

The “scheme” is “a direct assault on the quality of life in our area,” an anonymous flyer distributed in neighborhood mailboxes charges. The flyer asks residents to attend an April 1 planning board hearing to voice opposition to the proposal, which the flyer says will “in reality be a bar/nightclub-tourist magnet.”

“The amount of truck and car traffic needed to support this investment will be staggering and will create further gridlock on Sound Avenue,” the flyer says.

The flyer urges residents to call the supervisor and town board members and the planning board. “Tell them to vote ‘NO!!’ on this illegal and foolish plan.”

Residents are also fearful the site will turn into a venue for events like the “Pour the Core“ cider-tasting festival, which has been held in Cutchogue for the past three years.

The 7.3-acre site, located on the southwest corner of Sound and Osborn avenues in Riverhead, is improved with a 108,000-square-foot warehouse that was once the home of a potato chip factory. It is located in an Agricultural Protection Zone, which limits uses to agricultural uses.

But the Riverhead ZBA in 2000 granted Blackman a use variance, allowing the warehouse use and customary accessory uses to the warehouse use.

In May 2012, the town building department issued a use permit to John King for “agrucultural [sic] processing and warehouse.”

The building department has now issued a letter “stating that hard cider tasting and retail is accessory to food processing,” according to Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.

“It’s like an accessory use to an accessory use,” she said.

Giglio said the town was going to consider the plan “de minimis,” meaning it would not require full site plan review or a public hearing, until she and others raised questions.

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J. Kings Food Service Professionals owner John King explains his plans for the former Blackman warehouse at a June 2012 open house.

Expedited review of plans for the old warehouse upset residents in 2012, when a town official issued a use permit to John King on the same day the application papers were filed, according to dates and time stamps on documents, leading to questions by Giglio and Councilman James Wooten. Wooten pointed out that Supervisor Sean Walter, a lawyer, had represented the plumbing supply company in the past and suggested there was “something more to this story.” Walter denied any involvement with the matter, noting that he had recused himself from any matter having to do with Blackman or any other client, past or present. The supervisor said the meetings took place weeks before the actual permit application was filed and the permit issued on May 15, 2012.

Neighbor Austin Warner, whose family built and operated the Treat potato chip factory there in the 1950s and 60s, petitioned the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals to vacate the use permit issued by the building department. The ZBA upheld the permit, ruling that cutting, washing, processing and packaging produce was a customary accessory use to the warehouse use. The ZBA did not accept the idea, advanced by King’s attorney Anne Bracken, that the cutting, washing and packaging of farm produce was “agricultural production” under the town code.

Warner took the town to court over the issue, but the case was dismissed by a judge who ruled that the ZBA’s decision was based on “substantial evidence” and therefore not “arbitrary and capricious.”

William Sproston, a 20-year Baywood Drive resident, said neighbors will go to court again if need be.

“It’s just wrong for this area and we will do whatever it takes to stop it,” Sproston said. Traffic on Sound Avenue has already become “so ridiculous” people who live on Baywood Drive, a road directly across from the warehouse, have a hard time getting out, Sproston said. He’s very concerned that people visiting the tasting room will be parking on Baywood, because “there’s not enough parking over there.” That will create a hazard on Baywood as well as a hazard with people crossing the busy roadway.

Dan Maurer, another longtime Baywood Drive resident, said he has submitted Freedom of Information Law requests to the town which have not been completely fulfilled. He said he was told by a planning department clerk, who provided him with some documents, that he “didn’t need to see” other documents in the file, as he had requested.

“We’re trying to understand what J. Kings is doing,” Maurer said. “I’ve been a good neighbor. I just don’t want to have the wool pulled over our eyes.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.