Town might charge $1,000 for weddings, parties with 100 plus guests

Weddings and other private parties attended by more than 100 people would be subjected to a $1,000 permit fee if a new law is adopted by the Riverhead Town Board. And the law would affect mainly wineries.
The Town Code currently requires a special events permit for public events — such as concerts or festivals — that attract more than 100 people, but private parties are not covered under this section of the code, according to town attorney Dawn Thomas. The new special events fee is expected to add $125,000 in revenues to the town’s 2011 budget, according to officials.
“We have had consistent problems with outdoor music, traffic and parking related to special events that were private events,” Ms. Thomas told Town Board members at Wednesday’s work session.
Many of these events were held at wineries, she said.
“Those events, whether they are public or private, have the same effect on the roadways and our use of our resources such as our fire marshals and police department because of traffic impacts, noise impacts, code enforcement issues, etc.,” Ms. Thomas said.
Private events, she said, may even cost the town more than public events. The town fire marshal’s office spent over $50,000 in labor costs on private events last year, she said.
Ms. Thomas said there is also an issue as to whether weddings and private parties at wineries are legal, since they would have to qualify as agricultural events.
The state department of agriculture and markets, Ms. Thomas said, “has given the official opinion that a farm winery can have a wedding as an accessory to its agricultural use, but only if the wine sales at the wedding exceed the cost of the rental of the venue, which as you know, in reality, isn’t the case.
“But at the same time,” she continued, “I think the board’s intention was not to squash agricultural development and the fostering of those uses and events have been described as necessary and important.”
“I have no problem with it,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said. “I expect there will be some people that won’t be happy with it, but I don’t see anything else you can do at this point, because you’ve got too many vineyards and too many farmers abusing the situation, and you have to think about the residents. The residents are getting the short end of the stick.”
The Town Board agreed to schedule a public hearing on the proposed fee, but a hearing date has yet to be set.
Representatives of the Long Island Farm Bureau and the Long Island Wine Council did not respond to calls seeking comment on the proposed fee.
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