File photo: Denise Civiletti

Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard is back before the planning board seeking approval of a site plan rejected by that board in a 3-2 vote in October.

The vineyard, located on the north side of Sound Avenue west of Edwards Avenue, is looking to build a 6,048-square-foot tasting room, a 2,500-square-foot farm equipment building and convert an existing 275-square-foot wine processing building to and a bathroom facility units on its 16.8 acre site.

Since that vote, one of the three board members who voted no on the plan last year has retired and a new member has been appointed to fill his seat.

Vineyard principal Sean Kelly renewed his pitch for approval to the reconstituted board at its meeting Thursday afternoon.

Riverhead planner Greg Bergman reviewed the site plan application and the review it had received prior to the Oct. 7 vote. He said the resolution before the board at that time was a resolution to approve the site plan and since it failed to gain support from a majority, the board effectively took no action on the application.

“Effectively what that means is that the board did not render a decision on the application and they did not approve it and they did not deny it,” Bergman told board members Thursday.

The application sparked controversy in the community, with neighboring residents complaining about the vineyard’s current operations and area civic association representatives arguing that approval of the site plan, which would position the site to be used as a wedding venue, would degrade the Sound Avenue historic corridor.

Former Planning Board Chairman Stan Carey agreed. When he voted no on the resolution in October, he said he believed its approval would be “setting a very dangerous precedent for Sound Avenue” and “would be a first step in ruining the historical nature of Sound Avenue.” Longtime planning board members Richard O’Dea and Joseph Baier joined Carey in voting against the approval.

Carey, a Calverton resident, retired Nov. 30 and the town board subsequently appointed Joann Waski of Jamesport, to fill his seat and also serve as acting chairperson of the board.

When Kelly met with the board Thursday, he told them music at his site does not and will not affect neighboring residents all amplified outdoor music must use the house sound system and his staff controls the volume. Also the speakers will be positioned to direct sound away from the nearest residences, he said.

Nearby residents complained to the planning board last year of loud music coming from the vineyard on weekends. On Thursday, Kelly denied their claims. He said one of the residents who was most vocally opposed to his application is “never home” on weekends.

“Me and my brother have gone there almost every single Saturday and Sunday since that last hearing to invite him over,” Kelly said. He said his brother used his phone to make a recording from the neighbor’s house. “I don’t know where he is on weekends, but he want home every time we’ve gone there,” he said.

Kelly said outdoor music is kept to a level at which two people can comfortably have a conversation. The tasting room would be “a soundproofed self-contained building,” so bands playing indoors would not be heard off-site.

Other vineyards on Sound Avenue, such as Palmer and RG, have outdoor music and host weddings, Kelly said. Banning him from hosting weddings or having outdoor music would place an unfair restriction on his business, he said.

New York State’s Agriculture and Markets Department has issued guidelines that “dictate how vineyards and farm breweries…can utilize weddings to help support and market their products,” Bergman told the board. He said he included those guidelines in the resolution to approve Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyards’ site plan application. The vineyard would be required to provide an accounting on an annual basis to establish that the principal use of the property is agriculture — growing grapes — and to “make sure that this is not just a catering hall,” Bergman said.

“No more than 30% of our revenue can be generated from non-wine selling,” Kelly said.

He said his involvement with any weddings at the vineyard would be limited to providing the venue in exchange for a site fee and selling wine. Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard would not provide food or contract with caterers, florists or musicians, he said.

The board can restrict hours of operation and require events at the vineyard to be over by 10 p.m., or midnight. Bergman said he would check to see what restrictions were placed on other Sound Avenue vineyards.

Waski said she wants to visit the vineyard to check out its operations after it reopens in February.

Bergman said the board has already completed the required review process, including a public hearing and can take up the resolution again since it failed to act on it last time.

The board will discuss the application further at an upcoming meeting.

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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.