“We don’t need that next to our school, and we don’t want to see it in our neighborhood,” Northport resident Alice Abbate said during a public hearing of the Huntington Planning Board, which must decide whether to grant the project site plan approval. She told board members she has a problem with a business serving alcohol so close to the school.
Huntington attorney Fred Giachetti and his wife, Lisa, said establishing Del Vino Vineyard and a tasting room on the 10-acre property is a chance to preserve one of the dwindling open-spaces available for purchase in the region.
“I just thought this was a perfect opportunity,” Fred Giachetti said.
But the Giachettis plan has become a fight that includes the Northport-East Northport School District, a representative of which spoke against the project during the Dec. 2 planning board hearing.
“The district vehemently opposes this application,” Carrie-Anne Tondo, an attorney for Hauppauge-based Ingerman Smith, which represents the district, said at the meeting. “The school district is scared for the safety of its students, and to not address those concerns is ... a travesty,”
The Giachettis’ dream of making their own wine is linked to Lisa Giachetti’s ancestry. Her family has made wine and silks in Italy for more than 200-years. The couple wanted to build a small-scale vineyard where they would make their own blends, from pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and Gewürztraminer grapes.
Before the couple purchased the land in 2012, it had languished for about 15 years, Fred Giachetti said. The couple secured approvals to build a 7-house development on the land, but he said they realized a vineyard would give them a chance to preserve the land and restore the original 90-year-old farmhouse as a tasting room.
But Abbate said she’s gathered 350 signatures in opposition to the project in the village of about 7,400 people.
She said a tasting room would attract large weddings and other parties, disrupt the neighborhood, clog traffic as vineyard customers look for parking, and potentially put drunk drivers on the road.
“We bought our homes in a residential neighborhood … It’s our own little kingdom,” Abbate said. “It’s quiet, it’s quaint.”
Fred Giachetti rejected that suggestion, saying the tasting room would have about 60 parking spaces and try to attract to smaller groups.
Tondo called for more public hearings and an environmental study before the planning board decides on the application. Tondo said the school district is concerned about pesticides that would be used on the grapes and the possibility that unhealthy particles from the soil could drift.
Giachetti said the town already performed an environmental review and found that there was no negative impact to the community. Giachetti said he would still use a pesticide machine that pulls airborne spray back into the device to recycle and contain it, thus minimizing exposure to surrounding areas.
The Giachetti’s have planning board approval to grow grapes, but they need site plan approval to be able to make wine or have a tasting room.
The couple has a state liquor authority winery license and farm winery license. And Suffolk County and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has granted Del Vino a place in one of the county’s agricultural districts.
Fred Giachetti said the couple projects they could produce about 5,000 gallons of wine a year; and they want to grow pears, peaches, figs and herbs on the property. The fresh produce would be used to offer small plates to people who visit the tasting room in the restored farmhouse.