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Planning Board rejects Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard expansion

In a split vote Thursday, the Riverhead Planning Board rejected a local winery’s plans to expand its tasting room.

Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, which is under new ownership, had been seeking to add a 6,000 square foot “barn style” wine tasting pavilion and convert a wine processing building into bathroom facilities among other improvements to the property.

Outdoor music and events were a key point of contention among board members, who also received a petition signed by over 100 residents opposing the tasting room expansion.

“I don’t need a radio anymore. From 12 to 6, the music’s blasting,” said Edward Danowski, who lives just across the street from the vineyard on Sound Avenue.

In addition to putting up with seasonal traffic and gridlock, he said he’s constantly picking up litter, has caught people urinating and vomiting in his driveway and seen people having sex in the vineyard. “I can’t believe this stuff,” Mr. Danowski said.

Speaking on behalf of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association, Mike Foley of Reeves Park said he’d like the board to require music be limited to the interior of the wine tasting pavilion as well as limit operations to wine tasting only, meaning no weddings or special events.

“This is a rural corridor. There should not be any halls there that do that kind of activity,” Mr. Foley said. “Come on in, taste our grapes, taste our wine, buy our T-shirts, have a little music and have a good time. I’m fine with that. But once you expand beyond that, it’s not a vineyard anymore. It’s a catering hall.”

Citing similar concerns, Planning Board chairman Stan Carey cast one of three votes against the proposal, which he described as a “dangerous precedent” for Sound Avenue.

“I think it’s a first step in ruining the historical nature of Sound Avenue,” Mr. Carey said.

Board members Richard O’Dea and Joseph Baier also voted no, with Ed Densieski and George Nunnaro casting votes in support of the expansion.

Addressing the board Thursday evening, new owner Sean Kelly defended his plan, arguing that the pavilion would be located farther north on the property and thus farhter away from neighbors. To mitigate noise complaints, he also said he has sole control over the property’s sound system and performers would be required to use his system rather than their own.

He said the petitioners’ requests were unfair.

“If every other vineyard is allowed to have outdoor weddings with outdoor music … and then you would suggest to prohibit that from mine,” Mr. Kelly said. “I think that would put me as a strict disadvantage.”

He also cited the town’s 2003 Comprehensive Plan, which laid out a vision for tourism — and agritourism in particular — in his defense.

“At the end of the 2003 comprehensive plan, they had a list of goals, and it said the goal was to promote the growth of the wine industry and the agritourism in Riverhead,” he said. “Then it says the town’s zoning provisions need to be flexible to allow such uses.”

Civic leaders from four different associations each spoke at Thursday’s meeting, some noting that the 2003 plan is outdated and that preservation is more important than ever along the historic corridor. An update of the master plan is currently underway, with the final product expected to be unveiled in 2022.

For some, complaints over the Baiting Hollow vineyard echo issues that plagued the now-shuttered Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue, which had long been the source of complaints for neighbors in the area.

“We’ve all heard the story of Vineyard 48 and we don’t want a repeat of that on Sound Avenue,”  said Kathleen McGraw, vice president of the Northville Beach Civic Association.

But Ed Densieski, the board’s vice chair, said this business shouldn’t be penalized due to other bad actors.

“When I grew up in Riverhead, Sound Avenue was mostly potatoes. It wasn’t that historic and it wasn’t that great,” Mr. Densieski said. “Now, Sound Avenue is great. It’s a destination and it is because of the wineries, because of the farm stands, because of the cider house,” he said, adding that he thinks they’d be a good neighbor.