The struggle to define the identity of Southold Town has been simmering under the surface for some time. For many, it tends to ebb and flow with the tide of seasonal traffic, as “we” get “our” town back, but as rumors of Supervisor Scott Russell’s recently recommended moratorium on the Town’s approval of any new breweries, wineries and distilleries looks like it might become reality, the struggle is likely to intensify, even as the fall pumpkin traffic subsides.
While it’s probably smarter for me to remain silent, and hope that the Town Board decides to carve out a space in the moratorium that permits the two breweries (my own brewery project being one of them) and the one distillery that are currently making their way through the application process to continue moving forward, I fear my silence will only serve to validate what I see as an effort to distract from a failure to articulate sensible solutions to solve emerging problems related to the growing popularity of Southold Town in general, of which the local craft beer, wine and spirit industries are a part. While it’s easy to find a scapegoat in local beer, wine and spirits, such a narrow focus necessarily limits our ability to address certain structural issues that I believe are far more important in improving our overall quality of life as a region.
I agree that we need to update the town code to reflect current realities, but the world doesn’t stop turning just because we want it to. A moratorium will do little to solve current problems, it really only addresses future possibilities. By highlighting a limited related group of industries for restriction, while ignoring others, we minimize our chance of solving bigger more universal problems; freezing future brewery, winery and distillery applications will not solve issues caused by pumpkin picking or seasonal regional tourism and it will not solve the continuing scourge of drunk driving.
For my own brewery project, Threes Brewing East, I was willing to sign a covenant and restriction with both the Town and County that prohibited any retail use in our facility without going before the Zoning Board of Appeals to lift the restriction. Although my application was for a manufacturing facility only, and did not include a tasting room or retail component, the Town Planning Department thought it was necessary to limit such future possibilities. At the time the covenant and restriction seemed like a reasonable compromise to move the project forward because the permissibility of retail activity in the industrial zone of the Town code was unclear and our plan was to construct a production facility only.
The craft beer, wine and spirits industries have been at the forefront of revitalizing communities around the country. My own brewery project would have brought eight good paying non-seasonal middle-class jobs to Southold Town. On a personal level, it would have permitted my wife, Liz, and I to return to our hometown to raise our two young girls. This moratorium risks wasting the hundreds of hours, and tens of thousands of dollars we’ve spent on architects, engineers and attorneys to shepherd this project through the application process.
The moratorium would punish me for a series of quality of life issues that have absolutely nothing to do with my business as conceived – it boggles my mind that I would not be allowed to go forward with my brewery in Southold Town because of potential traffic issues generated by a non-existent tasting room or retail space. It is absolutely reasonable to talk about the daily potential traffic caused by our employees’ cars, or the weekly delivery trucks coming to and from our production facility, but it borders on absurd to even think about retail traffic when our application is limited to operating a production facility only.
Although the moratorium can be seen as an effort to protect a certain quality of life, everyone should consider the desirability of less traffic if local young people can’t afford to raise a family in Southold Town and the homes they all grew up in become multi-million-dollar second homes. Although the stated motivation for the moratorium is specifically tied to quality-of-life issues typically associated with the retail components of these types of businesses, we would do well to look at this push for a moratorium in the context of a greater discussion of identity – of what our Town is and what we want it to be in the future – and the effect it will have on our collective and individual futures.
I remain hopeful that the Town Board will push back on the Supervisor’s proposal for a moratorium and all of the stakeholders can come to a sensible compromise that doesn’t necessitate a total freeze or further delay my brewery project. I welcome the opportunity to be part of the discussion.