The Riverhead Town Planning Board has granted preliminary site plan approval for a proposal that would allow the processing, retail sale and tasting of hard cider at the Grapes and Greens agricultural enterprise terminal on Sound Avenue, despite the fact that town is in litigation with Grapes and Greens owner John King, who has accused the town of stalling the application.
The resolution granting the approval includes a number of conditions agreed upon by the town and Mr. King that address some concerns raised by residents regarding the proposal.
These include that there be no special events like weddings, festivals of fairs held at the site; no full service restaurant or catering on the site; no music played outside the building and the business comply with town noise limits; no further expansion of the tasting room or public access areas without Planning Board approval; that the tasting room and all public activities at the site close at 9 p.m.; the parking be limited to paved parking depicted on the approved site plan, and that no work begin or building permits issued until Mr. King obtains final site plan approval from the Planning Board.
The resolution, which was drawn up by the town attorney’s office and was not made available to the public prior to the start of the Planning Board meeting, makes no mention of the lawsuit being withdrawn as a condition of the approval.
Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said there is a possibility that could happen.
“Is it wise for the town to do anything until the lawsuit is resolved?” asked Phil Barbato, the president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition.
He said the Grapes and Greens facility is not living up to its original promise of being a processing and storage facility for local agricultural and wine in that it’s not storing local wines, and is only storing wines from outside the area.
The facility was opened in 2012 with $500,000 in state grant money, and “now the original plan doesn’t seem to have worked” so Mr. King is asking for more public funds, Mr. Barbato said.
Mr. King, who owns J. Kings Food Service Professionals in Holtsville, didn’t reply at the meeting, but said afterward that Mr. Barbato is wrong.
“There are over 150,000 cases of Long Island wine in stock at Grapes and Greens,” he said.
The notion that the business is failing is wrong as well, he said.
“The Long Island Farm Bureau rented 10,000 square feet in a 100,000-square-foot building,” he said. “More than 50 local wineries store their products at Grapes and Greens.”
He said that he moves between $5 million and $7 million worth of product there and the facility also reduces the number of trucks on the road.
During the summer, produce is brought to the building, cooled there, and then brought it to his distribution center in Holtsville, he said. After that, its shipped to markets.
Angela DeVito, the president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association, said that prior Zoning Board of Appeals rulings on the property included a prohibition on retail use. She asked Town Building and Planning Administrator Jeff Murphree, who is the town zoning officer, whether those restrictions were lifted by him.
“I’m not going to answer that,” Mr. Murphree said. He later clarified that his refusal to answer the question was due to the fact that the application is in litigation.
The Planning Board is expected to continue its review of the application in order to determine final site plan approval.
Photo: John King describes a proposed cider mill at Grapes and Greens during a meeting earlier this year. (Credit: Tim Gannon, file)