Neighbors oppose hard cider mill planned for Grapes & Greens

John King describes a proposed cider mill at Grapes and Greens
John King describes a proposed cider mill at Grapes and Greens. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Will a hard cider mill inside the Grapes and Greens distribution center on Sound Avenue result in a nightclub-like atmosphere, denigrating the quality of lives of its neighbors?

That’s the fear of some of those neighbors, who came out to a meeting Thursday to protest a proposal to create a 38,000 square-foot cider-making facility inside the 108,000 square-foot building that once housed Blackman Plumbing and in 2012 was converted into the Grapes and Greens “agri-park” facility with $500,000 in funding from the New York State Economic Development Council.

However vacant space remains at the building; the application in front of the Planning Board calls for making alcoholic cider, with bottling and tasting onsite.

Neighbors said they feared the addition of a cider-making facility on site would lead to increased traffic on an already dangerous section of Sound Avenue. They also felt it will create parking problems in the area, is not permitted under zoning, and wouldn’t benefit the neighborhood. They fear the tasting room would be akin to a “nightclub.”

“We’re going to be inundated with litter in the area, and with people urinating on the sides of the roads after they leave there, drinking all the hard cider,” said resident William Sproston. “This is going to have an adverse effect on the community.”

Mr. Sproston presented the Planning Board with a petition signed by about 80 people in opposition to the proposed cider mill. He said almost all of the people in that neighborhood signed it.

James Moore of Baiting Hollow said that one of the partners in the venture runs a promotion company that’s involved in “enormous festivals,” which he feared would be coming to Grapes and Greens.

The person he was referring to, Andy Calimano of Starfish Junction Productions, promotes large festivals like the North Fork Craft Beer festival, the North Fork Potato festival and the horseradish festival, but refuted Mr. Moore’s claims.

“We have no plans for events on this parcel,” Mr. Calimano said. “It’s too small for the type of events we do.”

Mr. Moore also said the town would be setting itself up for a lawsuit by approving this venture, since the town Zoning Board of Appeals denied a similar proposal on Sound Avenue in Northville a few years ago.

In fact, Thursday wasn’t the first time a proposal at the Sound Avenue building has run into opposition from neighbors, who sued over a ruling to permit the agri-park facility a few years ago. Though a judge sided with J. Kings — the distribution company which runs Grapes and Greens — in 2013.

One of two anonymous flyers going around the neighborhood in opposition to the proposal called it a “multi-million dollar tasting room (bar/nightclub).”

At an Industrial Development Agency meeting in early March, Greg Ferraro of J. Kings and Mr. Calimano described the proposal, and Mr. Ferraro said, “we want to make it a tourist attraction.” They also said they’d need to purchase some apples from upstate because there are not enough of them locally, although they would use local apples if they available.

The flyer also claimed that $500,000 in taxpayer subsidies were used in the venture, that the apples used in the cider mill wouldn’t be local, and that Grapes and Greens is seeking more taxpayer funding from the IDA.

John King, the owner of J. Kings, refuted some of those claims.

“I have never received a dollar in subsidy for this property,” he said. “I bought the building, and the Long Island Farm Bureau and Wine Council applied for $11 million in grants to build an agricultural center there. That was denied by the governor, but they suggested allocating $550,000 to further research the project.”

Mr. King said he’s collected $450,000 in rent in three years but he spent $1.5 million just for the refrigeration.

“I don’t consider that a public subsidy,” he said.

There were some speakers in support of the cider mill.

Ken Meyer of Calverton, who is retired from a beer company, said he’s known Mr. King for 35 years.

“I know when John King does something with the properties he has, it’s done the right way, and I think he deserves a chance here,” Mr. Meyer said.

Chris Vene, a partner in Baiting Hollow Golf Club said Mr. King supports local businesses and employs a lot of local people.

“Any project Mr. King does, he does it top notch,” Mr. Vene said.

The Planning Board, which only had three of its five members present, agreed to keep the hearing open until its next meeting on April 16.

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