File photo: Peter Blasl

Grapes and Greens, which sparked controversy when it sought to use a vacant warehouse on Sound Avenue as an agricultural processing facility, has announced it is relocating to Bohemia and expanding its wine importing and distribution business.

Grapes and Greens principal John King has sold J. Kings Food Service Professionals to Sysco Corporation, a publicly traded global food service distribution company headquartered in Houston, Texas. Sysco announced the acquisition in an Aug. 12 press release.

It will be business as usual for Riverhead Ciderhouse, which shared the 108,000-square-foot building on the corner of Sound and Osborn avenues with Grapes and Greens, according to Greg Ferraro of J. Kings.

J. Kings Food Service founder and principal John King bought the 7.14-acre Baiting Hollow property through a separate entity, J. King Realty Inc., which will retain ownership of the site, Ferraro said last week. King and Ferraro are two of several partners in City Cider House LLC, the company that owns and operates Riverhead Ciderhouse, which is not affected by the sale, Ferraro said.

The cider house has become a popular destination for local residents and tourists alike. The tasting room offers the cider house’s own hard ciders, plus draft beer and local wines, live music and a limited food menu featuring items prepared at the J.Kings facility in Bay Shore and assembled/heated on site.

But the site has been the subject of controversy — community opposition to the cider house operation, lawsuits and, most recently, charges by town building department staff that the owner was in violation of the approved site plan conditions.

The warehouse building was originally a potato chip factory built in the early 1950s by the Warner family, which owned a large potato farm. The Warners produced Treat potato chips there. After the factory went out of business in the late 1970s, Blackman Plumbing Supply bought the building and in 2000 obtained a use variance from the town to allow a warehouse use there as well as “customary accessory uses.”

Blackman ceased using the warehouse site sometime around 2010 and subsequently agreed to sell the site to J. Kings Realty, which said it had plans to use it as an agricultural processing and storage facility called Grapes and Greens.

J. Kings founder John King said the facility would be used to clean, slice, chop and package local produce for sale to retailers. The L.I. Farm Bureau hailed the plan as “an opportunity for growers to expand their markets” that would support the sustainability of agriculture on the East End. The farm bureau even got a $500,000 state economic development grant to fund “micro-grants” to local growers to enable them to take advantage of the agricultural processing services offered by Grapes and Greens. King also announced plans to provide warehouse storage for local wineries, which the L.I. Wine Council said would allow wineries to buy barrels, bottles and corks cooperatively in bulk, something that would save them money and aid their competitive position in the marketplace.

The town building inspector issued a use permit to J. Kings Realty for the proposed agricultural processing and storage facility in May 2012 and a neighbor, Austin Warner, challenged the permit — both in court and by an application for an interpretation of the zoning code — arguing that the Agricultural Protection Zone does not allow processing and storage.

The Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals in June 2012 upheld the use permit, ruling that the agricultural processing use is a customary accessory use to the existing warehouse use at the site. In February 2013, a State Supreme Court justice tossed out Warner’s lawsuit challenging the ZBA decision.

Over time, the Grapes and Greens business evolved into a wine importing and distribution business.

But the cider business took off. City Cider House began producing more than a dozen varieties of cider on site. In early 2015, J. Kings Realty sought permission to open a hard cider tasting room. The building department approved the use as accessory to agricultural processing. The hard cider would be produced and bottled at the site.

The decision sparked controversy among neighboring residents, who expressed worries about traffic impacts and the potential for use of the site for festivals and events. Neighbors turned out in force to oppose the J. Kings site plan application at an April 2015 planning board hearing. The planning board approved the site plan that December, with conditions that the site not be used for special events such as weddings, festivals or fairs. It also prohibited “a full-service restaurant or catering” and “music played outside the building.”

The Riverhead Industrial Development Agency supported the project in May 2016 with its approval of a 10-year property tax abatement on the portion of the building used for hard cider production and bottling. The abatement began at 100% and declines by 10% per year over the 10-year abatement period.

Two years ago, after being cited by building department staff, the cider house filed a site plan amendment application to legalize several changes already made at the property, including a reconfigured “grab and go” snack bar and the addition of two pizza ovens inside; the addition of a 3,186-square-foot outdoor patio area, adjacent masonry block wall and 56 parking spaces, as well as landscaping changes. The changes were approved by the planning board Nov. 2, 2017.

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect the following correction: The planning board did not approve outdoor speakers, as requested by the applicant .

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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.