Judge: Ag laws prevent town from halting vineyard operations

01/08/2011 10:00 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard won a victory in its court battle with Riverhead Town. But neighbors are filing their own suit.

A state Supreme Court judge has denied Riverhead Town’s request for a preliminary injunction against Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, which the town claims is operating without proper approvals.

The vineyard has drawn the ire of some neighbors, who say it is operating more like a nightclub than a winery and has consistently played loud music. The town’s lawsuit says the vineyard is holding special events, like weddings and parties, without obtaining the proper town permits and that it is operating outside of what its site plan allows.

But the vineyard’s attorney has argued that as an agricultural use, Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard is exempt from needing some of the approvals that the town and neighbors claim they lack.

“The town code does not require site plan approval for agricultural uses and agricultural accessory uses,” said Linda Margolin, the attorney for the vineyard.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Peter Mayer largely echoed that opinion in his ruling Thursday, according to both town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz and Ms. Margolin.

That decision, which has yet to be put into writing, cites sections of the town’s master plan, the state’s agricultural and markets law and the town’s right-to-farm legislation in backing the vineyard, both attorneys said.

The master plan urges the town to “promote the growth of the wine industry and agro-tourism in Riverhead.”

“We’re very pleased that this ruling is entirely consistent with the town code and the master plan, which are intended to embrace what farmers must do in order to have success,” Ms. Margolin said.

She said there is “some level of entertainment that people have come to expect to be part and parcel of the winery experience, not only here, but everywhere.”

The judge also disputed the claims that the vineyard was in violation of the town’s noise code, saying agriculture is granted exemptions from noise codes in state and town regulations.

But neighbor Jason Lull, along with his wife, Stacy Yakabowski, has brought a second lawsuit against Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. He said he believes that “when laws granting noise law exemptions to farmers were created, they were referring to noise from tractors and generators and irrigation, not from rock bands.”

Mr. Lull believes the ruling will set a bad precedent.

“It definitely opens up a huge can of worms,” he said. “This is leaving agricultural businesses virtually unrestricted and it pays no attention to existing covenants and restrictions. If there is some element of agriculture to your business, you can do anything you want. I guess we can just plant three tomato plants in the backyard and we can host weddings.”

Supervisor Sean Walter said the town will appeal the ruling, which applies only to their request for a temporary injunction and not to the overall lawsuit.

“I think the ruling is a little too expansive in its reading of what constitutes agriculture,” Mr. Kozakiewicz said. “It also didn’t take on the issue of applicants who receive site plan approval and then convert to something different from what they received the site plan approval for.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Walter said the town is still considering revamping its regulations regarding special events at vineyards and wineries. He said he hopes to set up a meeting this month to get input from the Long Island Farm Bureau and local vineyard owners.

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17 Comment

  • Put it this way… if those who choose to partake in the “festivities” are far too obnoxious and loud for their own good, then it is up to the vineyard staff to deal with the problem. Also, if those above mentioned choose to turn the key and drive, then hopefully they will be dealt with by proper authorities. Whatever happened to “You go your way, I’ll go Mine”?

  • Valid concerns….These vineyards are turning into catering halls because its trendy. They should be subject to the same noise ordinances as everyone else. I fully support the vineyards, and agriculture in general. However, to hide from applicable laws behind a misconstrued exemption is disrespectful to the community. It should be seen as illegal, and dealt with accordingly.

  • Loud music an agricultural use? Sounds to me like the vineyard has good lawyers, but not so good ethics or logic.

  • There should have been a clause stating his buyout would have been voided if he chose to pursue employment in another district. Does he want to retire or not?

  • Another example of government flunkies at their worst!!

  • Wow weren’t we led to believe the new school board was going to rescue Mr Rachlin. I guess it still stand, a leopard doesn’t change it’s spots.

  • there’s no chance they can constrian his right to work — but why would Wainscott want to hire him in the first place? Unless they’re getting him at fire-sale price…

  • If this is the way they are going to treat Dr. Rachlin how are they ever going to find a part time superintendent?

  • Why should we pay him anything once he leaves? Outrageous.

  • If there is such a clause in the contract – permission to negotiate – then Mr./Dr. Rachlin had to know about in which case there is simply no excuse. The phrase that springs to mind is “termination with cause” and Oysterponds would be well served to invoke its use and hand Mr./Dr. Rachlin a one way ticket on the Shelter Island Ferry. If Wainscott wants him so bad, they can pay the Shelter Island to Sag Harbor toll.

  • Is this an example of triple dipping? Why doesn’t someone investigate the circumstances on how and why SR has left his employment throughout his career? There is one common pattern for each of his professional moves, a little digging and a few phone calls would have discovered the causes. OP Board members failed in their fiduciary responsibilities, a 100K bail out. It would have been cheaper to fire for cause. As for Wainscott, BOE, their stupdity confounds me. What are they paying per-diem for a interim?

  • $600/ day. Rachlin still makes about $2000 a day… not including his (unknown) future and current benefits…

  • $600/ day. Rachlin still makes about $2000 a day… not including his (unknown) future and current benefits…

  • By offering to pay someone a salary to do a job, that’s how.

  • Cheers to the board (except for Kathy Syron) for the monkey wrench in the Rachlin works. He told us a huge lie by stating he wanted to retire- what example is he making for our children? Fire him and get him out of the school.