ZBA’s wine room ruling has Town Board scrambling

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The future crafts store and wine tasting room on Main Road in Aquebogue.

A recent decision by the Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals gave permission for an arts and crafts store under construction in Aquebogue to build and operate a wine tasting room as well.

The Sept. 8 ruling points out that wine tasting rooms and farm stands are specifically singled out as permitted accessory uses in the rural corridor zone, in which applicant Matthieu Chatin’s property is located.

Mr. Chatin, who recently moved to Mattituck from France, sought a ZBA interpretation as to whether the code permits wine tasting in an art and crafts store. He plans to dedicate 200 square feet of the store, currently under construction just east of the former Fauna restaurant on Route 25, to wine tasting.

Then last Thursday, in reaction to the ZBA decision, the Town Board and deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti discussed a proposal to change that section of its zoning, so that farm stands and wine tasting rooms would not automatically be permitted accessory uses to any of the 10 uses allowed in the rural corridor zone.

The move, on which the Town Board has made no decision, illustrates a widening rift between the Town Board and boards whose members it appoints, including the ZBA and Planning Board.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said last Thursday that he wants to hold a joint meeting of the Town Board, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals to go over their differences.

“In my world, we’re the elected officials, but when we ask the Planning Board to do something, we sort of expect them to do it, because we’re the ones people vote in,” Mr. Walter said.
There also were two instances last week where the Planning Board didn’t do something the Town Board asked it to do.

In the recent ZBA case, the zoning code lists the following permitted uses in the rural corridor zone, which stretches along Route 25 in Jamesport and Aquebogue: agricultural production, antique and craft stores, retail stores, nurseries, museums, libraries, schools, places of worship, parks and playgrounds and single- and two-family houses.

The code goes on to state that permitted accessory uses in the rural corridor zone “shall include those uses customarily incidental to any of the above permitted uses or specially permitted uses when located on the same lot. Specifically permitted are the following: Farmstands and Wine tasting rooms.”

Ms. Prudenti sees this as a problem.

“It’s hard for me to fathom that you could have a farm stand or wine tasting with a playground or church,” she told the Town Board.

The agricultural community also has problems with this section of the code, she said.

“They put a lot of sweat equity and investment into their farms, so for somebody to come along and open a farm stand or a wine tasting room without the agricultural production really devastates their industry,” Ms. Prudenti said.

Asked by deputy supervisor Jill Lewis if the Town Board was trying to discourage wine tasting, Mr. Walter responded, “No, but we don’t want it in schools.”

Ms. Prudenti believes the intent of the code was to allow farm stands and wine tasting rooms as accessory only to agricultural production, and that the ZBA misinterpreted the code.

Mr. Chatin said at the July 28 ZBA meeting that he was planning to build an arts and crafts store with antique sales and noticed in the zoning code that wine tasting rooms were a permitted accessory use in the rural corridor zone. He said that, being French, he “naturally” likes wine and he’d also heard that the bistro across the street needed space for a tasting room.

“For me, it made sense to combine the two,” Mr. Chatin said.

His attorney, Peter Danowski, told the ZBA that Mr. Chatin received permission from the planning department to build the store while he sought the ZBA interpretation on wine tasting because he planned to open the arts and crafts portion regardless of whether he got permission to use some space for a wine tasting room.

At that same meeting, Phil Barbato of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Committee opposed the wine tasting room proposal. He said his reading of the code clearly indicates that accessory uses must be customary to the primary uses.

ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone said he doesn’t think the language is that clear, and suggested to Mr. Barbato that the issue go to the Town Board for clarification.

“I find it very problematic,” Mr. DeSimone said of the wording in the code. “It’s not very clear.”

When the issue came up for a vote on Sept. 8, Mr. Barbato told the ZBA that the town attorney’s office was looking into a possible revision of the code to clarify the issue. However, ZBA members, with the exception of Rose Sanders, said it wouldn’t be fair to hold up the application because the code might be changed in the future.

“Right now, the way the code is written, [Mr. Chatin] has an opening and he has taken it,” ZBA chairman Fred McLaughlin told Mr. Barbato.

Ms. Sanders, a former town councilwoman, said the town has delayed decisions in the past because future code revisions were being planned. She said the ZBA was being inconsistent by not waiting.

At last Thursday’s work session, Ms. Prudenti submitted a proposed clarification that defines accessory use as being “subordinate in area, extent and purpose” to the principal use, located on the same lot as the principal use and “customarily found” as incidental to the primary use.

Under this definition, a wine tasting room wouldn’t be considered to be “customarily found” at an antiques store or craft store, she said.

But Councilwoman Jodi Giglio opposed the requirement that the accessory use be smaller than the principal use. She cited the example of a restaurant at which catering is permitted as an accessory use. The catering, she said, is often larger in size than the restaurant.

“You’re not allowing somebody to use their entire property as per the other regulations of our code,” she said.

Councilman John Dunleavy agreed.

Ms. Prudenti said members of the town’s planning and building staff agreed with the proposed change.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said that to add wine tasting to some of the permitted uses in rural character creates other issues, like parking and tour bus problems.

“It’s a whole other animal,” he said. “That use, wine tasting, takes up quite a bit of land.”

Board members said they plan to discuss the issue further.

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