There’s a little something for everyone at Riverhead Ciderhouse in Baiting Hollow. READ
There’s a little something for everyone at Riverhead Ciderhouse in Baiting Hollow. READ
Two projects received tax incentives from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency Monday, and two others began the process of applying for them. READ
The Riverhead Planning Board voted unanimously Thursday to give final site plan approval to Grapes & Greens’ proposal to build a hard cider tasting room and retail store, with storage and processing of apples, at the former Blackman supply building at the corner of Sound Avenue and Osborn Avenue in Baiting Hollow.
Food and produce processing company J. Kings has filed a lawsuit against the Riverhead Town Board and Planning Board, accusing the town of illegally stalling its application for a hard cider mill at its facility in Calverton. READ
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.
Grapes and Greens is not just shipping grapes and greens anymore.
The distribution company on Sound Avenue, which opened up in 2012 in the former Blackman Plumbing building, for the past six months has added beer to its core business model, adding to the vineyards and produce farmers it currently services.
“We kind of accommodate everything now,” said Jim Alessi, director of the facility.
Lyle Wells, owner of Wells Homestead Farms in Aquebogue, used to store his excess produce in a shed. He couldn’t control the humidity or temperature and would lose about 40 percent of his stored crop because of the conditions, he said.
But since September, Mr. Wells has used Grapes & Greens — a food storage and processing facility in Calverton owned by J. Kings Food Service Professionals — to store a total of 212,000 pounds of fresh butternut and spaghetti squash harvested from his farm.
He’s losing only 5 to 10 percent of the crop now, meaning there’s more to be sold – and more profit to be made.
“It doesn’t take long [for the money] to add up really quickly,” Mr. Wells said.
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Wells Homestead Farms is one of “dozens” of farms and six wineries from across the North Fork to use the facility since it opened for business this harvest season. And although the plant’s food packaging operations aren’t quite ready, its storage and refrigeration units have already made a “huge, huge difference” for local growers, said one participant, Jim Waters of Waters Crest Winery.
“It’s been terrific,” he said. “It’s really opened up a lot of avenues and doors for us.”
“It’s been tremendously successful,” said J. Kings owner John King.
Before the facility’s cooling storage was up and running this year, J. Kings would pick up produce directly from farms and bring it to retailers for sale.
“If they just pick it in the fields and then bring it to Stop & Shop, the product gets warmer and warmer,” Mr. King said. “It was hot as hell when we were delivering it.”
As a result, he said, that produce wouldn’t last long on store shelves. But now, produce cooled at the new facility after being picked up at the farms will last about five days on store shelves.
The facility has 8,000 square feet of storage and holds about 100 pallets of produce.
The facility is also being used by vineyards to cool wines for storage, with about 600 pallets of finished wine on the premises. The wine or grapes can later be returned to the wineries or distributed to stores, Mr. King said.
Waters Crest in Cutchogue had been using a fellow wine-grower’s facility to store its excess wine and grapes. But that was only a short-term solution, Mr. Waters said. As the other company’s wine grew in popularity, the extra storage space began to run out, leaving Waters Crest with little room to grow. Thankfully, he said, Grapes & Greens came online at the right time — for him and others.
Smaller winemakers have been waiting for a storage facility they could use without having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their own storage areas, Mr. Waters said.
“We’ve been needing something like this for years,” he said.
The need for a processing facility was highlighted in a study completed in 2011 by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Committee.
Citing a need to spur agricultural development on Long Island, the study recommended the building of “a strong agricultural processing center, or enterprise park, that would … provide distribution, cooling and storage of produce, allow meat processing” and perform other functions.
The Long Island Farm Bureau secured a $500,000 grant from the governor’s regional economic council initiative to get the project off the ground.
The facility officially opened last year after the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals upheld a controversial town building department permit for the property in June in the face of concerns about potential traffic and noise. But its operations were slowed down.
One neighbor, Austin Warner, filed a lawsuit against the Riverhead ZBA, as well as Mr. King and his company, to overturn the ZBA’s decision, claiming the ZBA violated state open meetings law and allowed false information when making its approval decision, among other alleged violations. In February, a state Supreme Court judge sided with J. Kings and the town, saying Mr. Warner submitted “no proof that the ZBA broke the law.”
Though the facility remained open throughout the legal battles, it was unable to get up and running in time for last year’s harvest, said Jim Alessi, Grapes & Greens’ director of agricultural services.
“By the time we got things going it was already into the fall,” he said, “Now we’re in position and it’s paying off.”
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the facility is providing “critical” assistance for farmers to expand.
“You can’t be as large an agricultural area as eastern Suffolk is without having basic necessities met,” Mr. Walter said. “Processing and cold storage are two of those things.”
Still, many farmers aren’t using the facility just yet.
Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela said the plant’s potential advantages are slowly catching on with farmers.
“The word is starting to get out,” Mr. Gergela said, adding he expects more farmers to use the facility next year.
While the wine industry has already used the plant “extensively,” Mr. Gergela said, farmers will find the facility’s processing unit valuable now that new federal food quality regulations are being considered.
He estimates compliance with the regulations, which will set new standards for water quality, cleanliness and worker protection, would cost the average farmer about $30,000 in new equipment.
By storing their food at Grapes & Greens, farmers could avoid most of those costs, he said. In order to use the facility, farmers pay a one-time $300 fee to help offset costs incurred by the Farm Bureau in applying for the grant. Beyond that, farmers also pay a handling fee of $29 per pallet.
“As time goes on we expect the farmers are going to realize ‘Jeez, we can’t have all the special things the government wants us to’<\!q>” due to the costs, Mr. Gergela said, adding they will find a benefit in a shared facility.
As for food processing and packaging, Mr. King said the legal delays held up health department permits.
But Mr. King said he’s not entirely sure if the packaging component of Grapes & Greens will take off as originally envisioned.
J. Kings has been packaging food in Bay Shore, but found packaged produce didn’t sell on store shelves as well as company officials had hoped.
“Long Island produce is so much more expensive than other produce, so it’s kind of hard to package it,” Mr. King said.
But he’s not giving up on plans to add packaging operations to the Calverton facility, he said.
“It’s in our best interests to get this to work,” he said.
The recent Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals decision allowing an agricultural processing and storage facility in the former Blackman Plumbing warehouse on Sound Avenue in Calverton is being challenged in court … again.
Austin Warner Jr., who owns property near the site, filed a lawsuit against the Riverhead ZBA, John King, J. Kings Food Service Professionals and Sound Realty Co. seeking to overturn the June 14 ZBA decision upholding a building permit issued to Mr. King, who is planning an agricultural processing and wine storage facility on the site.
It was Mr. Warner who filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the town building department’s decision to give a building permit to Mr. King, which resulted in the matter going to the ZBA for an interpretation.
The judge in that case, which is still listed as being active, put off making a decision until the ZBA made its ruling.
The new lawsuit claims the ZBA failed to supply any supporting documentation to support its verdict, failed to require health department approval for the project, and allowed false information stating that the property was owned by “John King J. King Realty.”
In addition, the lawsuit alleged the ZBA violated the state open meetings law when it went into executive session prior to its vote on the application.
The lawsuit also claims the use is not permitted in the Agricultural Protection Zone, where the site is located. And it claimed that the “agricultural processing and warehouse” use violates the conditions of a prior use variance for the property, which limited the property use to “warehousing and storage of industrial supplies.”
Finally, Mr. Warner’s lawsuit claims the decision was made in violation of the state environmental quality review act (SEQRA), which says that a non-residential application in a municipality with less than 150,000 people, for a facility with more than 100,000 square-foot gross floor area, is what is known as a “type-one action” and requires an environmental impact study.
Riverhead Town’s population is listed as 33,506 in the 2010 Census, and the Blackman building is 108,000 square foot, the lawsuit says.
Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said he had not fully read the lawsuit yet and couldn’t comment.
Town building inspector Sharon Klos said at the ZBA hearing that she granted the permit because she felt the uses Mr. King proposed for the site are within the scope of a warehouse, and she said the history of the building clearly shows that the warehouse use has not been discontinued.
William Duffy, the deputy town attorney who represented the ZBA on this case because the ZBA’s regular attorney, Scott DeSimone, recused himself due to a conflict, told ZBA members that in his opinion, the proposed use didn’t meet the town’s definition of agricultural production. He said he feels it does meet the definition of warehouse, the use currently permitted by prior ZBA rulings, and that the other uses sought by Mr. King qualified as permitted accessories to a warehouse.
Mr. King hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility last week in which New York State Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy was present.
He said the facility, which is being called “Grapes & Greens,” will be used to store North Fork wine, locally caught fish and farm produce, as well as to cool, package and ship products it buys outright from local farmers to extend their life and increase their value on the market.