Fall Colors on the Old Mission Peninsula; Chateau Chantal looking east | Jane Boursaw Photo
Fall Colors on the Old Mission Peninsula; Chateau Chantal looking east | Jane Boursaw Photo
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A group of wineries located on the Old Mission Peninsula filed a federal lawsuit this week against Peninsula Township for violations of the First Amendment, the Commerce Clause and Michigan’s alcohol laws. The lawsuit claims that restrictions imposed by the township’s winery ordinance have cost the wineries hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

In a press release received by Old Mission Gazette today, the wineries state that they’ve attempted to work with Peninsula Township to resolve the issues alleged in their lawsuit, including their inability to host weddings, family reunions, live music, book readings, and similar events and activities; their inability to have certain types of advertising and sell certain items like t-shirts and hats; and the restriction of growing only certain crops, with mandates to use 75 percent of their property for these crops.

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The wineries also claim that because they’re only allowed to sell Old Mission Peninsula appellation wine, this restricts their ability to buy grapes from outside the region or from out of state growers, which violates the Commerce Clause.

Chris Baldyga, co-founder of 2 Lads Winery on Smokey Hollow Road and president of the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula Association, said that while they’ve been working with township officials during the last two years to update the winery ordinance, both sides are “still so far apart” that the wineries decided to take legal action to protect their employees and businesses.

“Maybe it’s because we were coming from such old and antiquated laws and any proposed change seemed so radical that talks just broke down,” Baldyga told MiBiz.com. “We’d love to sit down with them to create a legal framework that allows for the success of all wineries out here, and also improves the climate for new entrants.”

Fall Colors on the Old Mission Peninsula
2 Lads Winery on Smokey Hollow Road | Jane Boursaw Photo

According to the lawsuit, Peninsula Township’s winery ordinance restricts the types of events that wineries can hold to wine and food cooking classes, meetings of 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations based in Grand Traverse County, and meetings of agricultural groups.

The wineries also claim that Peninsula Township regulates the wineries in a way that overrides the Michigan Liquor Control Code, including prohibiting amplified music, mandating that wineries close by 9:30 p.m., and restricting wineries from operating restaurants and catering services.

The lawsuit also alleges that Peninsula Township’s winery ordinance violates free speech protections, illegally restricts commerce, and amounts to regulatory taking of the wineries’ full use of their property. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that the township has leveraged the ordinance as a “content-based restriction on speech” which prohibits wineries from hosting weddings, political fundraisers, family reunions, religious services and other events, which violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“Peninsula Township has unfettered discretion in interpreting the meaning of the definition of Event and in limiting the number of times that a winery can use its land to engage in certain types of protected speech, including religious and political speech,” states the lawsuit.

The wineries also claim that more than a year ago, Peninsula Township admitted in writing that its winery ordinance is illegal and must be rewritten.

Peninsula Township is currently working to update both the winery ordinance and general zoning ordinance, which are two separate documents. Originally written in 1972, the general ordinance has had many amendments added to it over the years, but no official re-write since 1972. A public hearing about the general ordinance changes was held at the last Township Board meeting and will continue at an upcoming board meeting.

Peninsula Township Planner Randy Mielnik says they’ve been working with the wineries to update the winery ordinance, and the last scheduled meeting they had was in March 2020. He notes that the wineries canceled the April meeting, and the ordinance work was stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic shut-down and no township meetings allowed for much of the spring and summer.

Mielnik says they haven’t heard from the wineries since they canceled the April 2020 meeting, but both he and Township Supervisor Rob Manigold felt they were making good progress on a winery ordinance rewrite (currently working on Version 7 of a rewrite), including addressing the legal issues brought up by the wineries.

View a summary of Version 7 of the Winery Ordinance rewrite here.

Also, the township made immediate provisions for the wineries this year to help them through the pandemic shut-downs and protocols, including allowing tents at the wineries earlier this year, and igloos more recently.

Baldyga says the changes they’re requesting won’t change the rural character of the Peninsula.

“The rural character of Old Mission Peninsula is superb, and we don’t want to see that change,” Baldyga said. “I don’t think you’ll see us operating our tasting rooms until 2 a.m., but even to have a family reunion or wedding reception from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. is something we want. It’s not that we want to have rock concerts until midnight, but we want what they can do in Leelanau or Benzie counties. They’re more attractive places to start a winery because of how much more open they are.”

From the press release:

“The wineries are businesses in your community that hold many common beliefs about this beautiful peninsula. What they have always tried to do is operate responsible and sustainable businesses that will continue to support the broader, collective interests of your community, and do so within the confines of existing state and federal law. Collectively they employ over 400 full and part time workers. They own or lease more than 1,500 acres in Peninsula Township with approximately 1,000 of those acres in agricultural production and approximately 400 acres in conservation. Each year they collectively pay over half a million dollars in property taxes.”

The lawsuit seeks a judgment declaring that the Peninsula Township zoning ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution and asks that the court prevent the township from enforcing the ordinance while the case is pending. They are also seeking monetary damages for “reasonable costs, including attorneys’ fees, incurred in bringing this action.”

The wineries collectively filing the lawsuit include 2 Lads Winery, Bowers Harbor Vineyard & Winery, Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery, Chateau Grand Traverse, Chateau Chantal, Peninsula Cellars, Hawthorne Vineyards, Bonobo Winery, Tabone Vineyards, Black Star Farms and Mari Vineyard. All but Bonobo are part of the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula Association (WOMP), a Michigan non-profit corporation comprised of member wineries. However, they recently re-branded their website as the Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail.

The wineries are represented by attorneys at the Grand Rapids office of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PLC.

Sound off in the comments section below. Do you think the wineries have a case in asking for fewer restrictions in the ordinance? Or would you like to see the current restrictions maintained?

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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  1. I would like to see more consideration from the wineries for the quality of life not only for them but for the private citizens who are your neighbors. We have already increased traffic and will have increased noise if the wineries are allowed to operate more hours. The traffic on Smokey Hollow is definitely worst since 2Ladds opened and I dread thinking about evening weddings or family reunions. We are not a wide open space like Leelanau county with several roads in and out. We have one road in and out and because of the wineries and PUD development, we are living closer together than ever. Surely there can be compromise that helps the wineries without turning us into an amusement park 24/7/365.

  2. They wineries are lucky they were allowed onto OMP in the first place. Residential and Agriculture, not commercial, were always the only allowable land uses here. They knew that going in. Weddings, souvenier ships, winery tours, etc.. are not in keeping with the original intent for Ag use. Go over to the other counties that allow it- Bye!

  3. Did the developers of the wineries understand the ordinances/zoning rules before they decided to proceed with their business ventures, or did they start the businesses in some complete vacuum with no understanding whatsoever regarding the restrictions they would have to operate under?

    Do they want to change the so-called rules of the game now that they have been allowed to conduct business on Old Mission Peninsula?

    Now they are suing the township and asking for monetary damages. If the township has no available insurance coverage for their defense, this simply means the wineries are suing the tax payers of Old Mission Peninsula. What a great way to treat your neighbors!

    Perhaps democracy should prevail. Let the wineries go through a township ballot proposal and have the majority decide whether we should have even more traffic and demand on the infrastructure of our township.

    The current ordinances should not be changed at this point. We should be more restrictive on future business endeavors so as to not degrade our way of life further, and the current businesses should have to operate under the rules that have been long established.

  4. “Each year they collectively pay over half a million dollars in property taxes.” The legal defense fees of this lawsuit will eat up the taxes they have paid in the last year.

  5. Mutual tolerance is the key to the balanced-well-being of all Americans. The balance of respecting your neighbor works both ways. Restricting the path of growth is usually met with grass roots attitude that is hard to quell. On the other hand, slow and responsible growth by the Vineyards will speak volumes to the locals with respect to the well-being of their homes and lives. My perspective is sort of invalid because I’m an outsider who just loves the region, so my perspective is less emotional than if I were a resident. If small business is the backbone of America, then a mutually beneficial outcome will arise. If polarized, then it serves no-one. Not the business, the resident, or the vacationer.

  6. These establishments are not good neighbors to residential communities. I know I suffer in Benzie County from one such establishment (which snuck in BTW… I don’t think any Benzie County township actually allows wineries in rural RESIDENTIAL neighborhoods). These establishments knew the rules, and want to change for their financial gain and damn the neighbors. It’s greed and want of money that drives them, there is no consideration for the families that live nearby. Until you actually live by a winery that brings in 1100 people for a concert event, you can never understand the effect it has on your well being. Nearly all who attend these events leave to the quiet of their own home far from the winery. Those that live nearby are trapped.

    • They are not losing thousands of dollars per year. Rather, they are hoping for thousands in additional profits. I have not noticed the closure of wineries due to inability to make a reasonable profit. Indeed, they have ample funds to finance legal action against the Township. Every business enterprise operates under restrictions of some sort. Should the wineries find the (previously known) regulations onerous, they are free to relocate to a business climate more to their liking. I suspect there would be willing buyers to take their place. That said, the best outcome would be negotiation in good faith between the parties seeking a reasonable compromise; subject to referendum of township residents.

  7. […] Fact: Leading up to this lawsuit in 2019 and 2020, discussions were underway among the wineries and Township staff. But, at the onset of the COVID emergency, many Township and Town Hall functions — including these discussions — were suspended pending resumption of Township and Town Hall operations. Without notice or warning, and before the Township could schedule further meetings, the wineries sued the township. […]

  8. I live in California wine country and Napa County passed its Winery Definition Ordinance in 1989, which banned weddings at all wineries except for a few which were grandfathered in. Has this harmed the businesses? Not likely, but Napa County (and Sonoma County where I live) are at the apex of the American wine world, and are top tourist destinations from travelers across the globe. So, it’s an understatement to say that they get by.
    In the spirit of mutual satisfaction, perhaps as one writer penned, compromises can be made that satisfy both the residents’ concerns and the hankerings of the wineries to expand their offerings.
    I have never visited your area, but we are planning a sisters trip and hope to visit later this year.


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