By Jano Tantongco
Huntington officials were “unreasonably restrictive” in their ruling that stalled a controversial proposal to build a winery with tasting room next door to a Northport elementary school, according to preliminary state findings.
Town officials, however, are contesting that portions of the state’s findings side in their favor, potentially stalling the proposal further, according to A.J. Carter, town spokesman.
Property owner Frederick Giachetti’s proposal to build what has been touted as Del Vino Vineyards on Norwood Road has been criticized by town officials, Northport-East Northport School District officials and local community members due to its close proximity to Norwood Avenue Elementary School.
In the May 10 letter that was issued after Giachetti appealed the town’s decision, state Department of Agriculture and Markets officials found that Huntington Town Code is too confining for a “county-adopted, state-certified agricultural district.”
This could mean that the proposal may be subject to more lax requirements before site plan approval is granted since the property was approved by both the county and the state as an agricultural district last year. According to state code, local municipalities can’t “unreasonably restrict or regulate” farms that are in agricultural districts unless it’s found that there is a threat to “public health or safety.”
Additionally, the state’s letter says the site plan review process should be “expedited,” and that the proposal should not have to abide to an aesthetic prohibition that barred a parking lot from being constructed in the front yard. Also, the state’s letter finds that the proposal should be exempt from an environmental review, which the Huntington Planning Board has requested.
“I’m thankful that the state is willing to now enter the discussion and mediate the circumstances between myself and the town,” said Giachetti, of Northport, a Huntington-based lawyer who first proposed the winery last year. “I think they’re going to sit there as an impartial arbiter.”
Giachetti said he’s now seeking a building permit from the town to proceed with his proposal.
However, state officials also found that the proposed 7,189-square-foot winery building could be subject to engineering review since it is not designated as an “agricultural building,” but is instead planned to be used to process grapes, host tastings and market the farm’s crops.
This was one of several stipulations that town officials are looking into as they review the state’s findings.
Carter said the town attorney’s office is conducting the review and “upon completion of the full legal analysis, the town expects to speak directly with the Department of Agriculture and Markets as offered in the letter.”
Stipulations maintained by the state include the requirement of a development plan, a traffic study and regulation of proposed hours of operation.