Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard had its application for site plan approval rejected by the Riverhead Planning Board Oct. 7. Photo: Denise Civiletti

A Sound Avenue vineyard’s proposal to build a 6,048-square-foot tasting room on its Baiting Hollow site was scuttled by the Riverhead Planning Board Thursday night, with a 3-2 vote against a resolution authorizing the buildout and other site improvements.

The preliminary site plan application of Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, located on the north side of Sound Avenue west of Edwards, includes the new tasting room building, which will have wine processing facilities in the basement, as well as a proposed 2,500-square-foot farm equipment building. It also calls for the conversion of an existing 275-square-foot wine processing building to a bathroom facility. The applicant would remove certain structures existing on the site and seeks to legalize others that were built without benefit of permit, according to Riverhead Planning Aide Greg Bergman.

Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard is under new ownership. The town for several years had been in litigation with the vineyard’s pervious owners over alleged violations of town code, including alleged “special events” where food was being served, and outdoor amplified music was being played, “creating unreasonable noise.”

The town also sought an injunction to prevent the vineyard from using several structures, including the wine processing facility, which were built without permits. According to the town’s court filings, the former owner had a site plan approval from the planning board granted in 2007, but then built structures not depicted on the site plan without permits, expanded parking areas, erected tents without site plan approval or permits, conducting special events at the site without permits and allowing amplified music outdoors,

Amplified music outdoors was again at issue as the planning board considered the vineyard’s new site plan application.

Over 100 neighboring residents signed a petition asking the board to ban exterior speakers on the site and prohibit any use other than wine-tasting on the site. Residents and residents of area civic associations spoke in opposition to the application at the planning board’s public hearing. Nearby residents said noise from activities at the vineyard is already disturbing their quality of life on their own properties.

Mike Foley of Reeves Park in Riverhead, representing the Sound Park Heights Civic Association, implored the board at the hearing and also during a public comment period last week to reject the application as it stands, which he said is contrary to the intent of the Sound Avenue historic corridor, the town’s comprehensive plan and the town zoning code.

Foley called on the board to prohibit wedding receptions and parties at the vineyard, to limit the use to wine-tasting and also ban outdoor music. When a vineyard owner hosts those kinds of events, Foley said, “He’s not a vineyard anymore he’s a catering hall. Let’s call it what it is. And a catering hall does not belong on the historic Sound Avenue corridor.”

Foley said the State Agriculture and Markets Law does not state that vineyards can host wedding receptions and parties. He took issue with statements in the resolution to approve the preliminary site plan to the contrary. But the language of the resolution referred not to the statute but to a 2017 Department of Agriculture and Markets guidance document, which said the department “concluded that on-farm wedding receptions, parties and special events (e.g., harvest festivals or distillery, brewery, cidery and wine tastings), including charitable events, held at farms which market their crops as wine, beer, cider and distilled spirits, help market the farm operation’s product.” Such events are to be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they are protected as part of the farm operation.” The guidance document goes on the detail criteria for evaluation.

Foley reminded the planning board of other facilities in town that were approved for uses other than catering but had become event venues, such as a Manor Lane, Jamesport restaurant, and which had become quality of life problems and nuisances for neighbors, he said. The town is currently in litigation with the Jamesport restaurant over these issues, Foley said.

Baiting Hollow resident Gary Danowski, who lives across from the facility, said plans may sound great but “the underbelly of the beast” already includes traffic congestion, litter that drifts onto his property, noxious behavior by visitors who he’s seen urinating in his hedge, vomiting in front of his driveway and even having sex “in between the rows” of grapevines.

“As far as the noise goes, I can work in my garage, I don’t need a radio any more. I can turn my radio off, the music’s loud enough — every weekend from 12 to 6, the music blasts,” said Danowski, who said he’s lived in the house most of his life.

Wading River Civic Association Sid Bail said that by approving the application, the planning board would set a precedent. “And little by little, it’ll be the death by a thousand cuts for the corridor,” Bail said. “The business owner has a right to develop his property, but others also have a dog in this hunt,” he said.

Northville Beach Civic Association vice president Kathy McGraw said her organization joined every other civic group in opposing the application and called for protection of the historic corridor. McGraw noted that the application provides for 180 parking spaces while the parking requirement for the uses on the site is just 65 spaces.

“I’m not any kind of planning expert. I have no expertise in this area at all. But if it requires 65 spaces, and you’re gonna provide 180, just what are you up to there? How many people are going to be coming in and out?” McGraw asked.

She said the board should be very wary of creating another Vineyard 48, a now shuttered vineyard on County Road 48 in Southold that became what residents and town officials described as a night club and party venue. “And we don’t want a repeat of that on Sound Avenue,” McGraw said.

Vineyard owner Sean Kelly said the homes to the north of the site are more than 1,500 feet from his northern property line.

“There is no way that they’re going to hear music from my vinery at those houses,” Kelly said.

He also said he and his sons use decibel meters to monitor the noise levels of the music being played at his vineyard. “And we do not play the music, to the point where you could even hear it,” Kelly said. He said his staff controls the volume of the sound system at the vineyard and no one who performs there is permitted to bring their own sound system so that the vineyard can have control over the audio levels.

Kelly said every other vineyard on Sound Avenue hosts weddings and the events are “well-contemplated” by the Agriculture and Markets Law.

Planning Board Chairman Stan Carey said he thought the resolution before the board would be “setting a very dangerous precedent for Sound Avenue.” Carey said allowing live music and parties at a vineyard “would be a first step in ruining the historical nature of Sound Avenue.”

Carey said based on the court decision in the prior litigation with the applicant and the opinion of the town attorney, “It is totally left up to this board whether or not outside music is allowable at these venues,” he said.

Board members Richard O’Dea and Joseph Baier joined Carey in voting against the approval.

Members George Nunnaro and Edward Densieski voted to approve.

“When I grew up in Riverhead here, Sound Avenue was mostly potatoes,” Densieski said, reading from prepared remarks. “It wasn’t that historic and it wasn’t that great,” he said.

“Now, Sound Avenue is great. It’s a destination, and is because of the wineries, because of the farm stands, because of the cider house, etc. etc.” he said. “The proposed barn absolutely fits in with historic Sound Avenue. The closest house is about 1,500 feet away from the new barn. The applicant must meet all codes, including noise. I believe the applicant will be a good neighbor,” he said. “And the applicant should not be punished because another venue in Jamesport is abusing the town code and is being a bad neighbor. He shouldn’t have to pay the price for it,” he said.

He said Sound Avenue has changed the “bad reputation” the town had when he was growing up and now Riverhead has “a destination.”

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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.