Pictured Above: Peconic Bay Vineyard staff members discuss plans for the hotel at their Cutchogue winery.
There’s a lot going on in terms of potential commercial development on the North Fork, and nowhere more than in the world of hotels. Three hotels are currently being pitched along the Main Road (Route 25) between Mattituck and Southold.
In Southold, the plan for The Enclaves, a 40-room hotel and 74-seat restaurant with an event space and spa on a 6.75-acre parcel along a stretch of the Main Road just east of downtown, has drawn the ire of neighbors, who came out in droves to decry the project at an Oct. 14 hearing before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Hotels are considered a “special exception use” from the ZBA in this hamlet business zoning district.
Just a little further west, across the street from King Kullen in Cutchogue, the Soloviev Group, which has purchased significant acreage on the North Fork in recent years, is planning a similar sized project, albeit on much greater acreage, at Peconic Bay Vineyards, a winery that had been closed for eight years before it was purchased and reopened earlier this year by a team headed by Stacey Soloviev.
That plan would include a 40-room hotel and spa designed to be an immersive experience in winemaking on the North Fork. It would also require a special exception use permit from the ZBA.
By far the largest proposed new hotel on the North Fork is one proposed by Alan Cardinale, owner of the site of the former Capital One Bank headquarters on the Main Road just west of downtown Mattituck.
The most recent proposal for that property, in September of 2020, was a 125-bedroom, two-story hotel and 300-seat restaurant, scaled back from a three-story, 200-bedroom hotel that had been proposed in 2018.
Hoping to get ahead of the controversy over the Peconic Bay Vineyards proposal, management there invited the community to a Nov. 8 open house at the winery — with free wine and charcuterie.
More than 150 people showed up.
Ms. Soloviev, whose ex-husband, Stephan Soloviev, lives in East Hampton, has been managing several properties for him while raising their children on the North Fork, including Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm in Cutchogue, the Chequit Inn on Shelter Island, several thousand acres of farmland and, now, Peconic Bay Vineyards, which sits on 53 acres, 16 of which are commercially zoned and the rest of which is in a 2-acre residential zoning district, where agriculture is a permitted use.
“I work for my ex-husband. I make my ag payments and he leaves me alone,” she told the Nov. 8 crowd at the winery. “But I don’t have a choice. This property has to be developed.”
She added that two shopping centers the size of the King Kullen shopping center, along with 50 apartments, could be built on the property as of right, but she wanted to build something at a much smaller scale.
“I want to do a hotel that’s a total immersion into wine, letting people be involved with the winemaking process,” she said, adding that the hotel would have 10 rooms in a main building on the site of the current tasting room, which would be open year-round, with separate four-room bungalows surrounding it that could be operated on a seasonal basis.
The main building would be 6,000 square feet and would include a pool and the spa. She said the 37 acres of the vineyard land would remain planted in vines, though an earlier version of the hotel plan showed that houses could be built there.
She added that the hotel, designed by architect Glen Coben, would use modern materials like hempcrete and glass, and the actual winemaking studio would be sunken with a green roof. There would likely be retail shops within the building selling local meat and vegetables, along with space for small North Fork farmers to showcase their products. She added that she’d like to partner with other local wineries on educational events there.
The project would include a $1 million on-site commercial nitrogen-reducing sewage treatment system, which is now required for new construction by the Suffolk County Health Department, and Ms. Soloviev said a traffic study is in the works. She added that she hopes the immersive element of the project will have many visitors spending their time on premises during their stay.
Ms. Soloviev said she had initially wanted to build a 25-room hotel and Stephan Soloviev had wanted to build a 100-room hotel there.
“He knows my vision, and he believes in everything I do,” she said. “Right now, he leaves me alone, but I can’t fail.”
She said that if this project doesn’t work out, they will likely sell the property, which could then be developed by someone else.
While the crowd at the winery seemed generally receptive to the proposal, it was a stark contrast with an Oct. 14 hearing for The Enclaves project in Southold.
For more than three hours, residents questioned whether the town’s infrastructure could handle The Enclaves project, wondered aloud if a 2018 traffic study of the project would need to be redone after a massive influx of new people to the area since the pandemic, and asked what the effect would be on the use of local beaches.
Despite the outcry, the Zoning Board of Appeals has less of a legal burden of proof to approve a special exception use than in granting variances, a factor that was raised both at the Enclaves hearing and at the Soloviev open house.
“This is not a popularity contest,” Southold Town Attorney Bill Duffy told the crowd at The Enclaves hearing. They’re bound by the code and that’s what’s going to guide them in making their decision.”
“A special exception use is simply a use that is authorized if certain conditions are met,” he added. “Courts have found that the inclusion of a special exception use in a zoning district is tantamount to a legislative finding that the permitted uses are in harmony with the zoning district.”
The four conditions that must be met include minimum lot size, limitations on the number of guest rooms based on whether public water and sewer are available, maximum room size and requiring that audible music played on site cannot be heard at the property line, said Mr. Duffy.
The Zoning Board of Appeals has not yet made a decision on the application. They next meet Dec. 2.
Southold Town is in the midst of hiring a consultant to make zoning change recommendations in the course of implementing its comprehensive plan.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell cautioned at a Nov. 4 work session that some aspects of the comprehensive plan might not be in line with current concerns.
“I know there’s a lot of concern about hotels right now, but the reality is the comp plan says hotels are needed,” he said. “Whether they’re consistent with community character, that’s the balancing act.”