By Jano Tantongco
Huntington officials are claiming they have not unreasonably blocked development of a winery proposed to be built next to a Northport elementary school, according to a letter to the state.
The March 15 letter, written to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, responds to a plea made to the state last month by Frederick Giachetti, owner of the 29 Norwood Road property.
In his claim, Giachetti stated that the “town is acting unreasonably restrictive in their zoning code and their process for approval.”
The proposed Del Vino Vineyard, which is planned to include a 3,000-square-foot tasting room, has faced opposition from Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone, nearby residents and Northport-East Northport School District officials due to its proximity to Norwood Avenue Elementary School. The school is located immediately west of the 10-acre property.
Giachetti’s proposal has not moved forward since a December 2015 hearing before the Town of Huntington Planning Board. Giachetti claims that the planning board subjected the proposal to requirements that would be more akin to commercial development than a farm, including an environmental assessment form, a lighting plan, parking variances and a traffic study.
In August 2015, Suffolk County and the NYSDAM granted the property agricultural district status, which Giachetti claims should exempt his proposal from such review since the status limits the town’s jurisdiction. 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.”
However, the town feels it has not acted unreasonably in its claims to regulate the proposal. The town’s letter cites state code, which says the agricultural district certification does not exempt properties from local site plan review, zoning board variances, building permits and other local land use approvals.
In June 2015, the town planning board gave initial site plan approval for Giachetti to plant grapes on the property. However, in the town’s letter, it is now claimed that the approval was given under the condition that there would be no intensification of use on the property, including using it for winery operations.
Huntington officials are not against the growing of grapes on the property, but do want to regulate the development of the winery and tasting room, according to the town’s letter.
On Tuesday, NYSDAM Public Information Officer Jola Szubielski said the state is currently in the process of reviewing the discrepancy.
“It is always the department’s goal in these situations to help all parties come to a mutually satisfactory agreement without any legal action, and we have usually been successful,” Szubielski said in the email.