Riverhead Town, neighbors sue Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard

12/23/2010 12:19 AM |

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Baiting Hollow residents Hudson Wells, Tom Scoenewollf, Jason Lull and Stacy Yakaboski say they've been subjected to excessive noise from vineyard parties.

Riverhead Town has taken the owners of Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard on Sound Avenue to court, accusing them of holding illegal events and building additions without town approvals. The town is seeking more than $100,000 in damages and wants the alleged illegal activities halted.

A group of the vineyard’s neighbors has filed its own suit making similar claims but seeking $5 million in damages. The neighbors say they’ve been subjected to noise from parties at the winery, which they contend is operating illegally.

“When the live bands start, it’s just outrageous,” said Jason Lull, who lives across the street from the vineyard and filed the lawsuit in November with his wife, Stacy Yakaboski, who is an attorney. “We can hear it inside our home.”

Meanwhile, Riverhead Town officials are considering tightening the regulations on wineries that hold private parties and play amplified music.

The vineyard’s attorney, Linda Margolin, says her clients are running an agricultural operation and don’t need any town approvals for their activities under state law and the town code. She insisted that the town’s own master plan encourages such uses of agricultural land.

Neighbor Hudson Wells, who is not a party to the other neighbors’ suit, told the News-Review that he lives a quarter-mile from the vineyard and can hear its music loud and clear. “And I can’t turn the volume off when I’ve had enough,” he said.

In its lawsuit, filed in July, the town charges that Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard’s owners — listed in the court papers as Steven and Sharon Levine and Richard Rubin — have “permitted various outdoor events including outdoor weddings and other events” since October 2008 without the required special events permits from the town.

The town also claims the business has held “various events with outdoor music” that have created “unreasonable noise” in violation of the town code.

The vineyard also has operated without the site plan approvals for a gazebo, a wood frame shed, a brick patio, a wine processing building, a second-floor balcony and conference rooms, according to the town.

Defending the winery, Ms. Margolin pointed to a recent court decision that she said allows the vineyard to continue operating while the town lawsuit is pending.

“The town did go before a judge at the very inception of this lawsuit to get a temporary restraining order [to stop illegal activities] and they simply got virtually nothing,” she said. “That’s because the town code does not require site plan approval for agricultural uses and agricultural accessory uses.”

Ms. Yakaboski says the events and retail sales that are happening at the winery are not agricultural activities. What started with a small farmhouse and horse boarding operation, she said, has expanded to add a tasting room with retail sales upstairs. “Since then, they have expanded into a bar, a catering hall and a nightclub,” she said.

“Apparently the neighbors don’t like the town code or the New York State Agriculture and Markets law,” Ms. Margolin commented. She said the activities mentioned by Ms. Yakaboski “are permitted. Ag and Markets has issued guidelines indicating that a whole variety of direct marketing activities by farm wineries that include entertainment are perfectly appropriate.”

“I am from an agricultural family and this has nothing to do with agriculture,” Ms. Yakaboski said. She and Mr. Lull say there is constant noise coming from the vineyard on weekends in the summer and that they can never get any quiet time in their own home.

“We’re going to be forced to move if they don’t fix this,” Mr. Lull said. “We feel like this is not our home anymore.”

“I understand the importance of wineries, but you’ve got to take into account the rights of people,” Ms. Yakaboski continued. “A lot of us have struggled with the question of how far are they going to go in the name of agriculture.”

“Maybe if it wasn’t so loud, nobody would say anything,” said Tom Schoenewolf, another neighbor who says he can hear loud music from his house, about a quarter-mile away.

Mr. Lull says the vineyard also is allowing amplified music to be played beyond a court-imposed limit of 2 to 6 p.m. He has collected schedules posted on the vineyard’s website advertising bands playing beyond 6 p.m.

Town attorney Dawn Thomas said the town is looking into seeking contempt of court charges against the vineyard because of the amplified music.

“The amazing thing to me is that the town appears to have completely forgotten about its own comprehensive plan,” Ms.

Margolin said. “The comprehensive plan says that one way to preserve agriculture in the town is precisely to facilitate things like this.”

She said it’s as if the town is saying “you can have a business that’s agricultural, but you’re not permitted to be successful.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

138 Comment

  • Another one trying to hide a greed and money enterprise under the guise of agriculture…with the lack of ethic, morals or common decency for neighbors (who were also there first) who chose to live in the beauty of this quiet historic corridor…in a true agricultural area. Ironic, as I drove past there a few months ago and was surprised to see such an enterprise/traffic/music at this location and that it had been “legally approved”. Evidentially they decided just doing what they want with an attorney who likes to play ubiquitous word games with flippant responses would suffice.

  • Another one trying to hide a greed and money enterprise under the guise of agriculture…with the lack of ethic, morals or common decency for neighbors (who were also there first) who chose to live in the beauty of this quiet historic corridor…in a true agricultural area. Ironic, as I drove past there a few months ago and was surprised to see such an enterprise/traffic/music at this location and that it had been “legally approved”. Evidentially they decided just doing what they want with an attorney who likes to play ambiguous word games with flippant responses would suffice.

  • Playing loud outdoor music, or firing bird-scaring cannons, are not “agricultural activities”. But power and money is what defines words these days.

  • Riverhead has a reputation of being a place where businesses have been used, abused, and inevitable forced to relocate. As a result of the abusive treatment that has been applied to businesses from residents and town government, we have a downtown area that looks disgusting and has therefore become a shelter for illegal immigrants. It’s time to stop the nonsense. Residents and government need to work with, as opposed to against, local industry in order to foster a greater Riverhead for our children and grandchildren.

  • Everyone is blaming the teachers for the high cost of educating students. It is true that they are well paid, but their money goes back into the community and they pay taxes also. The tenure system does protect teachers from being laid off or fired without good cause. Everyone should have this protection. However, it does not guarantee a job for poor performance. It is up to administrators to do their job when they evaluate performance and recommend dismissal for those who do not measure up. They are not doing this, it is easier to let bad teachers stay than to recommend they be fired. Most teachers are doing a good job not only in educating their students, but in dealing with the many problems childrencome to school with. Maybe the focus should be on top heavy administrative positions and the high salaries they get. Also, the salaries paid to Superintendants is outrageous and the pensions they retire with are also far and above what they deserve. This is what is causing education costs to soar, not teacher salaries and benefits. Also, the next time you visit an administrator, take note of the elaborate offices and expensive furniture they enjoy. Most teachers work hard and, in addition to a Master’s Degree also have to take ongoing courses to maintain their licenses.

  • cut the teachers pension at least in half…this of how much money we would have then!

  • YES! Administrators too!

  • These administrators need to learn the word “cuts” and start cutting their own salaries and benefits. Sorry – but like everyone else, they need to learn to do more with less. Some of these adminsitrators are making more in salary than the GOVERNOR of the State of NY!! C’mon – they aren’t worth more than that. It’s not the teachers (and I’m not a teacher). There is way TOO MUCH FAT in these districts and the schools need to get serious and cut out the fat.

  • These administrators need to learn the word “cuts” and start cutting their own salaries and benefits. Sorry – but like everyone else, they need to learn to do more with less. Some of these adminsitrators are making more in salary than the GOVERNOR of the State of NY!! C’mon – they aren’t worth more than that. It’s not the teachers (and I’m not a teacher). There is way TOO MUCH FAT in these districts and the schools need to get serious and cut out the fat.

  • Vote the budgets down and they will be forced to cut. Blind parents just vote yes to budgets because they think it’s better for the children. You want your child to play sports, then pay some of the cost. You want your child to play music, foot some of the bill. Most students don’t follow through with sports or music after they leave school. Only a select few do. If their grades arent in the top third of their class don’t let them have these programs. As far as educating students keep in mind we did good with less. These kids of today have to learn how to do on their own and we have to stop giving them things on a silver plater. High paying administrative positions should be cut and if they don’t measure up they should be let go without pensions or very little of one. There isn’t an administrative position in the school system that calls for the salaries they get. So go ahead and blindly vote yes on school budgets. If you do then your part of the problem so stop crying.

  • The ONLY category that can be cut- thanks to the sweetheart rules of the game the Unions have secured for their members- is programs to kids! Not a penny of salary, benefits, or pension can be touched or modified without a CHANGE IN THE LAWS in ALabny (Taylor Law, Triborough Amendment) etc. The current law also prohibits parents for paying for their kids to play sports, engage in music etc. AGAIN ALBANY’s rules control. You must fundraise for ALL, or you cannot have any. Albany can’t pretend they are controlling expenses by passing a Cap, without immediate and simultaneous changes in the laws that are causing never ending increases. A cap without relief of EXISTING mandates, not just preventing NEW mandates (like Monday’s Senate Tax Cap) is nothing more than a Public Relations move, and passes the political backlash down to local school boards who are powerless to change things under the rules of Albany’s game.

  • Wow. It’s unfortunate how uneducated some people are about public education! All things are open to all kids, whether its sports, music, chess club, etc. Pay to play is illegal! Once the politicians learn how to fix a broken system of state aid funding to the schools, we’ll be in better shape. Until then, districts like Middle Country, Longwood, William Floyd, Rocky Point, E-SM and more will continue to lose funding from the state. Have we heard of program cuts in Northport, Syosset or Jericho?

    These forums are great for venting, aren’t they? Especially for those who may never have attended a meeting of a local Board of Education, or Policy or Budget committees. Learn how things work first before the attacks begin.

    Perhaps the teachers who pay taxes, their Cablevision bill, and watch their LIPA bills, oil bills and gasoline bills skyrocket will do better to the rest of the taxpayers when they’re on the unemployment line.

    Nah, we’re better than that. We wouldn’t want to be a burden.

  • In NYS it is against the law to have pay for play which is parents paying to have their child participate. Don’t blame the districts they are just following the law.

  • they should cut all the principals in william floyd middle school and hire 1 good one that can handle the kids