By Andrew Wroblewski
Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone has sent a letter to county officials asking them to rescind a vote that he said was “taken in error” limited the town’s authority over a proposed winery next to a Northport elementary school.
In the letter, dated Dec. 16, Petrone argues county officials were given “incomplete” advice and therefore did not understand the state would have “as of right” zoning authority over the property once it was accepted as farmland by the county in July. The state sanctioned the property as an agricultural district in August.
“New York State Agricultural and Markets Law supersedes local zoning and creates ‘as of right’ authority for the farm property not only to grow grapes (agricultural production),” but also to “produce, consume and sell wine on site,” Petrone stated in the letter.
Petrone said this has limited the town’s say, and allowed property owner Frederick Giachetti to push forward a plan to build a 7,189-square-foot winery on the Del Vino Vineyard property, which is directly adjacent to the Norwood Avenue Elementary School.
“We request that the amended findings in this matter be remitted to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets,” Petrone stated.
“Such action would freeze the current application before the Town of Huntington and allow the matter of the preservation of open space and the development of an agricultural enterprise in Huntington to undergo the thorough kind of analysis necessary to ensure that any proposal is entertained is in keeping with the residential and educational purposes of the Norwood Avenue neighborhood.”
The proposal has drawn criticism from some local residents who oppose its proximity to the school. Others praise its potential economic impact to the community.
The plan is currently under review by the town’s planning board.
According to Suffolk Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport), Petrone’s request isn’t likely to go far. He said the county cannot and will not rescind its decision to make 29 Norwood Road an agricultural district.
Spencer said 29 Norwood Road was made an agricultural district strictly because of Giachetti’s intentions to maintain a vineyard there – which he has done.
“Based on the merits of what they are doing in terms of having a vineyard there, they fit… It’s not me saying that I support them having a winery there,” Spencer said. “It warranted being in the agricultural district, so, had the legislature voted ‘no,’ if they are truly deserving, the state will overrule that.”
Spencer said the intention of the county’s agricultural district is to shield farmers from “unfair zoning and restrictions by a local municipality.”
“It does not say that they are not subject [to restrictions], it says that are not subject to unreasonable [restrictions]… it doesn’t mean they can do whatever they please,” Spencer said. “I encourage the town to take full action in terms of its regulative authority.”
He added, “The town’s hands are not tied. They’re deflecting the public pressure… The town can take action if they choose to. That would then be appealed to the state if there’s a discrepancy or if the applicant feels as if they have been unfairly treated.”
Spencer added that he does “share the community’s concerns” with the proposal to build the winery and that he wants “what’s in the best interest of the school and the community.”
Spencer’s legislative district does not encompass 29 Norwood Road, but Legislator Robert Trotta, whose district does contain the property, did not return a call for comment.
Officials from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets did not respond to a request for comment by deadline Tuesday.