Town Of Orangetown Contemplates Local Law Allowing Agribusinesses Like Cideries & Wineries In Residential Zones

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Businesses Would Have To Secure Special Permits If Text Amendment Is Adopted; Effort Initiated By Rockland Cider Works, Which Hopes To Keep Its Cidery In Business

By Tina Traster

The Town of Orangetown is contemplating the adoption of a local law that would amend the zoning code to permit cideries and wineries in residential districts by special permit. The effort has been prompted by Rockland Cider Works, which had been running a cidery at the Van Houten Farm at 68 Sickletown Road in Orangeburg but was forced to shut down following defeats in Rockland County Supreme Court.

“We have received the planner’s report and remain optimistic that the town will work with RCW to come up with a local law that addresses the parties’ concerns,” said Lino J. Sciarretta, who is representing the cidery.

While appealing the rulings and with the litigation continuing, the cidery is proposing a change in the zoning code that would clear the path for its legal operation. Last month, the Town of Orangetown hired the Laberge Group of Albany, at the cidery’s expense, to prepare a report on the proposal, and make recommendations. In essence, the report outlines proposed changes that would balance the interests of the cidery and its neighbors, which have been fighting the cidery in court for nearly two years.

The Town Board on Tuesday said the report is under review and awaiting comments from lawyers on both sides.

“We are still discussing, tweaking, allowing us to work out things before a public hearing,” said Robert Magrino, the town’s counsel, adding he’s expecting the town will begin public hearings sometime in May. “This is a work in progress.”

For Rockland Cider Works, which has suspended its operations, a special permit by way of amended zoning, may be the last hope for the family-run business.

“We have received the planner’s report and remain optimistic that the town will work with RCW to come up with a local law that addresses the parties’ concerns,” said Lino J. Sciarretta, who is representing the cidery.

Rockland Cider Works is appealing an earlier court decision in which Rockland County Supreme Court Justice Thomas Zugibe dismissed the cidery’s case for its failure to exhaust its remedies at the Orangetown ZBA. The cidery was seeking declaratory relief affirming its operation was allowed in the existing zoning.  In a second case, neighbors who have been fighting the cidery secured a temporary injunction and paid a nominal bond set by Justice Christie D’Alessio to shut down the cidery, though that litigation continues.

Three of the neighbors spoke at last week’s town board meeting to express opposition to the cidery.

“I believe that zoning laws are meant to separate incompatible activities from one another and to keep same business types together,” said Joyce Taub, a neighbor who is part of the lawsuit fighting the cidery. “Simply put, this is the wrong place for the RCW business.”

Last July, thirteen plaintiffs, which include Susan McWhinney and Gerard Goggin, who live on an adjoining property to the Van Houten Farm, filed a lawsuit against Rockland Cider Works, the company’s landlord the Van Houten Farm Market Benefit Trust, the Town of Orangetown, and the New York State Liquor Authority hoping to shut down the farm cidery. Both spoke against the zoning text amendment at the meeting last week.

In the aftermath of D’Alessio’s ruling, the cidery sought to go back to the town to request the text amendment to the zoning code. The text amendment would allow agritourism, wineries, cideries and other agricultural uses by special permit on any five-acre-plus property in a residential R-40 or R-80 district. However, even if Orangetown adopts the text amendment, there is no guarantee the cidery will receive a special permit.

In 2021, Orangetown denied the cidery’s request for a building permit and issued stop work orders. At that time, and under the Town Code and New York law, the cidery needed to appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to reverse the decision or seek a variance to operate a business that does not conform to the code. Instead, the cidery took the Town to court and secured a temporary injunction allowing it to continue operating while litigation was pending. Essentially, the cidery wanted to court to decide the legality of its operation instead of the ZBA.

In January, Justice Thomas Zugibe rebuffed the cidery’s efforts to skirt Orangetown’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The issue of whether the Van Houten Farm was legally zoned for a cidery was never reached in the court.  Instead, the court dismissed the case.

The Laberge group made several recommendations including that the town amend its zoning code to do away with the term “Agricultural Use” to avoid conflicts with how both the State and the County use the term. It also suggested adjustments to the term “Agri-Tourism” to better align with the how State uses the term differently.

As defined by New York State Alcoholic Beverage Control, “a farm winery or farm cidery is characterized by the conversion of fruit and other edible products grown on the premises or in the state of New York, into wine or cider for sale in the wholesale market and to the public for on-site or off-site consumption on a duly licensed location as authorized by permit of the New York State Liquor Authority.”

Agri-Tourism, under the New York State Agricultural & Markets law means “activities conducted by a farmer on-farm for the enjoyment and/or education of the public, which primarily promote the sale, marketing, production, harvesting or use of the products of farms and enhance the public’s understanding and awareness of farming and farm life.”

Laberge is also seeking clarification about Rockland Cider Works’ licensing, how much cider it produces, and any limiting factors under its current license. It recommended the town secure an annual report from the cidery declaring the source of material used in its cider to ensure agricultural products are grown in New York State. And because Van Houten doesn’t actually grow fruits or vegetables at its farm, LaBerge recommended Van Houten disclose the names of the farms that supply fruits and vegetables during the farmers’ market season.

To operate such a business, five acres would be required in either the R-80 or R-40 zones. On-site consumption hours would be limited to Thursdays through Sundays, with Fridays and Saturdays until 8:00pm. Retail sales would be seven days per week, but food trucks can operate only Thursdays through Sundays.

The permit would require off-street parking, setbacks from neighboring properties, and before issuance a consideration by the Town Board on the impact the operation would have on neighboring properties. There would be a limit of one food truck, no amplified music, no commercial kitchen on site, and no restaurant service. The code would also limit exterior and on-site lighting. Maximum occupancy would be limited to 25 patrons per acre on the approved site plan, and any special events would require separate approval.

“Of course Laberge was tasked by the town and RCW to try and make the operation fit, but they couldn’t and that’s reflected by the fact that their revisions increased the restrictions in RCW’s proposed local law,” said Donald Feerick, who is representing the neighbors. “However, even with those restrictions, the cidery is completely out of character with the neighborhood and contrary to Town Zoning.”