Artist's rendering of the visitors center at Hallock State Park on Sound Avenue, which is scheduled to open in late May or June. Image courtesy of New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

The Hallock State Park visitors center on Sound Avenue will sell alcoholic beverages and visitors will be able to drink them on-site, according to a document released last week by the state parks department.

The patio and picnic area adjacent to the visitors center will be designated by the state parks department to allow alcohol consumption, the document says.

The state parks department said it prefers the “Taste-NY” concession to be operated by the holder of a farm winery, brewery or cidery license. But “there may be multiple liquor licensing options available to an interested party and all proposals are encouraged,” according to the document, a formal request for proposals issued by the state agency March 16.

“A farm winery branch office license permits on and off-premises sales of New York State beer, wine, cider and spirits, as well as food items, coffee, etc.,” the RFP says.

The concession will occupy a 600-square-foot room within the visitors center, a 3,800-square-foot structure currently under construction on Sound Avenue. The visitors center will also have an exhibit area and a community room and bathrooms accessible from both outside the building and inside. Parking for 20 vehicles will be available in an area adjacent to the building.

Local officials and some residents had expressed concern that the visitors center is essentially a Sound Avenue “rest stop,” but news of the state wanting the concession to sell alcohol — and allowing it to be consumed there — surprised and alarmed both Riverhead and Southold town supervisors.

“Clearly this is a rest stop,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said. “Now we have a rest stop with a bar. That seems like an odd combination — a rest stop in a public park serving booze.”

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell was angered when told of the state’s plans.

“It’s highly irresponsible for a state agency to actually promote drinking given the preponderance of it already out here,” Russell said.

“Will they provide money for the DWI checkpoints we will need to add?” he asked.

Southold Town saw its liability insurance cost increase by more than 44 percent after its longtime carrier declined to renew the policy this year. The insurance company, faced with large claims arising out of the fatal July 2015 limousine crash in Cutchogue that claimed the lives of four young women on a wine tour, cited increased risks associated with the thriving North Fork wine region.

Walter said state park representatives “not once mentioned they would be selling alcohol at the shop, much less allow people to consume it there.”

State parks Long Island regional director Wayne Horsley, at a March 3 “stakeholders meeting” at Riverhead Free Library, did not raise that possibility when speaking of the products the concession would sell.

“We’re not going to be in any way competitive with local establishments,” Horsley told the group. “Our concessionaire, in our mind — our vision is they would offer coffee, maybe some sandwiches — made locally, not on premises— a grab and go. It would offer things like honey that oftentimes are not offered throughout the community but are made in the community. That’s what the concession is going to be about,” Horsley said.

The alcoholic beverages to be sold at the Hallock concession must be produced in New York, though not necessarily on Long Island — opening up the possibility that the concession could offer wine produced upstate. in direct competition with the offerings of local wineries.

“They said in the past that they are trying to create a family park,” Russell said. “Which family? The Kardashians? Think of the scenario: ‘Kids, go play in the woods while mommy and daddy get a snootful. Meet us by the car.’ The decision-making regarding that site gets worse and worse.”

Walter said the addition of a “bar” at the “rest stop” will only make traffic problems even worse then he feared when he realized the state was building a “rest stop” on the southern end of the 225-acre park, which will offer hiking an equestrian trails and a mile of beachfront on the Long Island Sound.

He predicted the 20-space parking area will fill up quickly and people looking to use the public restrooms or visit the Taste-NY shop would look to park along Sound Avenue. Walter also faulted the site design, which he said does not provide any turning area for vehicles to maneuver so they can exist the park. “It’s a dead end. Cars are going to back up onto Sound Avenue.”

Walter said he asked the state to pay for improvements to Sound Avenue at the park entrance, including turning lanes, but the state refused.

“We’ll ban parking on Sound Avenue and we may need to prohibit left turns into and out of the park,” Walter said.

“Only under Governor Andrew Cuomo,” the Riverhead supervisor fumed. “From the road signs to the rest stop, his complete lack of respect for the local municipality is just awe-inspiring.”

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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.