Nearly a decade after the Landino family purchased a 10-acre parcel on Derby Avenue and Racebrook Road with hopes of building a commercial winery, the Town Plan & Zoning Commission amended its regulations to pave the way for a significantly scaled down version of their original plan.
The amendment calls for special standards for a farm winery that has more restrictions than those in place for the standard farm stands that operate around town. Under the new regulations, farm wineries will require at least 10 acres of land, with not less than half devoted to the cultivation of grapes and a 50-ft setback and buffer between the winery and surrounding neighborhoods. The regulation permits growing and processing grapes on site and allows that a percentage of goods may also be imported to the facility. Kitchen facilities, food preparation and food trucks are prohibited and buildings dedicated to wine-tasting activities and retail use cannot exceed 1,500 square feet.
In 2011 parents Antonietta and Pietro Landino and daughters Sara, Alexa and Rosamaria Ponte Landino, purchased 10 acres of the 25-acre parcel known as “The Preserve,” which was formerly owned by the Legionnaires of Christ with hopes of restoring a windmill on the property and naming the vineyard Windmill Winery.
In 2013, in an informal meeting with Paul Dinice, the Landinos proposed a 15,000 square foot building that could accommodate 200 guests and 150 cars on the property. Though the family never formally submitted that proposal, talk was rampant around town that the family intended to operate a banquet facility on the property similar to the Cascade banquet hall they currently own in Hamden. Later that year they submitted a formal proposal to the TPZC to add a 5,878 square foot building to an existing 2,733 square foot structure that would accommodate a wine making production and tasting facility with a retail area selling farm-fresh products and prepared foods. The plan also included 720 square foot kitchen to prepare “light fare” for patrons like cheese plates, breads and other foods that would complement the wine. Neighbors actively opposed the plan at public hearings, saying a commercial winery did not belong in a residential neighborhood, and citing increased noise, traffic and disruption of the rural nature of the area as reasons the application should be denied. Shortly after the TPZC denied the application, a “For Sale” sign went up on the property, although the parcel was never sold.
Now owner Pete Landino hopes to build a “forever home” for him and his wife on the property and envisions operating a small winery as a hobby to enjoy in his retirement. “When I get up in the morning, I want to see the vineyard. I’m not doing it for money, just enough to pay the taxes,” he said. “I don’t need to make money there, I already have a big business—I own Cascade.”
Landino has already planted 4,000 grape vines on 3.5 acres which is expected to yield 950 gallons or about 250 bottles of wine this year. Eventually he expects to yield about 270 bottles per acre or about 2,600 bottles of wine annually.
Alessandro Gomez, who lives adjacent to the proposed wine stand at 17 Green Hill Road, spoke against the application. “This has been scaled down a little but not enough. In my view as a neighbor, I don’t want the current residential use to be impacted by whatever it is that Mr. Landino wants to do. Before he came with a platoon of lawyers, today he makes it sound like a hobby. The sticking point is the tasting room and special events—we look at this as merely a Trojan horse for what essentially will be a commercial enterprise. What’s the point of a tasting room if all he cares about is seeing the vineyards when he wakes up in the morning from his retirement home? He can enjoy that as it is now—he can sell his wine as it is now since he has the right to open a farm stand locally.” Gomez contends a tasting room and special events will lead to special hours, possibly police being called to the site and a loss of his peace as a town resident. Another letter in opposition from a neighbor was also read into the record.
Commissioner Kevin Cornell recused himself from the TPZC vote. “Last time there was an application on this property I was not on the board but I was a vocal opponent and given my level of concern about the application that might be read as pre-judgment so I think it would be prudent to recuse myself,” he said. Commissioner Judith Smith also abstained from the vote.
In approving the special standards for a farm winery, Commissioners unanimously agreed it fit the town’s plan of conservation and development by preserving undeveloped land and enhancing the rural nature of the community; protecting the scenic value of Route 34 with a low intensity usage; and encouraging agriculture. Chairman Ozzie Parente emphasized the special standard is not a site plan application, only the first step in clarifying requirements for a potential farm winery. “Overall we’ve created a very strict regulation of farm winery operations, we’ve really taken the commercial aspect out of it,” he said. “I’m not sure anyone can operate a commercial winery profitably with these regulations in place.”
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town Correspondent