Bonobo Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
Bonobo Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo

Protect the Peninsula has joined the fight against 11 Old Mission Peninsula wineries who are suing Peninsula Township in order to have less restrictions on their events and activities, something the wineries say has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.

Protect the Peninsula (PTP) is a community watchdog group that’s been working to protect and preserve the quality of life on the Old Mission Peninsula since the group was founded 42 years ago. Now, they’re jumping into the issues surrounding the lawsuit filed in federal court by the wineries last fall (read more about the lawsuit here).

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Some Background on the Winery Lawsuit

In a press release received by Old Mission Gazette on Oct. 22, 2020, the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula (WOMP) state that they’d attempted to work with the Township to resolve the issues alleged in their lawsuit, including, in part:

  • 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.
  • Their restriction of growing only certain crops, with mandates to use 75 percent of their property for these crops.

What the wineries are demanding, from PTP’s website:

  • On any 5-acre agriculturally-zoned lot, wineries would be permitted and allowed to host commercial events, such as business conventions, weddings, and reunions.
  • Alcohol service from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.
  • Concerts and outdoor amplified music until 2 a.m.
  • Wine-tasting rooms of unlimited size.
  • Up to four additional houses on each 5-acre agricultural plot for winery employees.
  • Full restaurant service, including catering and food trucks.
  • Retail sales of merchandise other than agricultural and wine.

But PTP says that “if a mere 1 percent of the 9,200 agriculturally-zoned acres in Peninsula Township took advantage of the 5-acre commercial use WOMP plan, there would be 92 more 7 a.m. – 2 a.m. event/restaurant businesses in Peninsula Township. That is an over 800 percent increase from the current 11 wineries on Old Mission Peninsula, and potentially an untold increase in traffic, noise and other issues.”

What Protect the Peninsula is Doing

During the past three months, Protect the Peninsula’s legal counsel, TJ Andrews, along with PTP board member Mike Dettmer and supporter Grant Parsons, acting as pro bono lawyers, have worked to review the WOMP lawsuit and research WOMP’s claim under Michigan law.

On PTP’s website, they state that their legal counsel has determined that WOMP’s arguments are not supported by Michigan law.

“The WOMP demands are unfair under Peninsula Township’s existing zoning,” they note. “PTP believes WOMP’s demands would fundamentally change the Township’s character and quality of life. If adopted, WOMP’s demands would degrade residential and farming life that Peninsula Township has created through visionary zoning and land use policies – Ag zoning, Purchase of Development Rights, and Ag preservation initiatives.”

PTP’s legal counsel has also reviewed the Township’s Answer to the lawsuit and believes that “it doesn’t adequately represent the rights of residents and bona fide agriculture on the Old Mission Peninsula.”

PTP has intervened because they believe that Peninsula Township may not be willing or able to defend the Winery Ordinance and preserve the unique character of the Old Mission Peninsula – a blend of agriculture and residential land. PTP believes that WOMP’s demands pose a direct, long-lasting threat to the Peninsula’s quality of life. (Read the comparisons between the existing winery ordinance and the wineries’ proposed changes here.)

“Unlike other winery jurisdictions, Old Mission Peninsula is a unique land mass with limited infrastructure and a thriving agricultural industry that also needs consideration in land use policy,” notes Dettmer. “Transforming winery/vineyard operations into commercial events operations, with bar-type hours, music concerts, weddings and restaurant operations, is exactly what Township residents opposed in the recent 2019 survey.

He adds, “The Old Mission Peninsula is not NAPA, Oregon or Virginia. It’s not even Leelanau County. It has long chosen to be and remain an agricultural/residential township.”

Dettmer says that WOMP should voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit and “come back to the Peninsula Township zoning table with proposals consistent with the township’s agricultural and non-commercial history.”

To help support Protect the Peninsula and their mission of preserving the Old Mission Peninsula’s quality of life, click here.

Current Status of the Winery Lawsuit

In January 2021, Judge Paul Maloney with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan denied a Motion for Preliminary Injunction filed by WOMP.

The goal of the injunction was to prohibit the Township from enforcing its zoning regulations as it relates to the wineries. Because the motion was denied, Peninsula Township’s zoning ordinance restrictions for the wineries will stay put for now. Read more about this latest development here.

UPDATE: Feb. 8, 2021, from Peninsula Township attorney Greg Miehn:

Dear Residents,
Recently, an article published in the Old Mission Gazette written by PTP stated that PTP has intervened in the lawsuit with the wineries. While no such intervention has occurred as of yet, PTP is invited into the battle regarding the actions sought by WOMP and the 11 wineries. The article also made reference to the fact that the answer filed by the township might not protect the residents of Peninsula Township.

First, the township’s actions included an initial motion to dismiss, which forced WOMP and the wineries to properly plead their complaint by filing a first amended complaint. Second, the township defeated the motion for temporary restraining order sought by WOMP and the wineries to enjoin the township from enforcing its zoning ordinance and the contractual agreements with the wineries. Third, the answer filed by the township was drafted with the protection of the residents in mind. At this time, the township is fighting the lawsuit on its own to protect the township and residents.

The township welcomes PTP’s intervention in this matter and will greatly appreciate it when it happens. Nevertheless, the township will continue to pursue a path that is designed to protect the township and the residents of Peninsula Township.

PTP’s Long History on the OMP

One of the first major developments proposed on the Old Mission Peninsula occurred in 1979, when multiple developers pursued a 1000-acre housing complex with commercial and golf operations near “The Bluffs” subdivision, on the south end of Bluff Road about a half-mile from the Center Road intersection. To bring awareness to the project and work to preserve the land, Protect the Peninsula was formed that year by a group of people from both the farming and residential communities of the Old Mission Peninsula.

The first developer sought zoning changes for the property, resulting in a referendum in which 76 percent of Old Mission Peninsula residents overwhelmingly rejected the proposed rezoning. In 1986, that same developer sought amendments to the ordinance through a Planned Unit Development (PUD) proposal. PTP led a second referendum with 75 percent of voter opposing the project.

But the fight didn’t end there. A new developer sought a Special Use Permit (SUP) with a similar residential development which included commercial and golfing facilities. Peninsula Township approved the SUP.

PTP filed a lawsuit against the Township on behalf of the community in October of 1988. The trial ended with a decision favorable to PTP, and the development was quashed.

PTP Through the Years

Over the years, PTP has been involved in many issues in Peninsula Township, including:

Helping to craft the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR). In the mid-1990s, PTP Board member John Wunsch led a citizen group that included many PTP members to help craft the PDR ordinance and millage campaign to secure its funding. This program – the first in Michigan and recognized as a national model – has been instrumental in preserving thousands of acres of agricultural land. PDR was originally passed for a period of 15 years, then amended by voters in 2002 to increase and extend the millage through 2022 (it will likely be on the ballot again next year).

Helping to craft the first winery ordinance in 1972 and preserve it through the years. In 1998, Chateau Chantal filed a lawsuit against Peninsula Township seeking modifications of its SUP to allow convention and banquet type functions, overnight guest accommodation, a swimming pool, expanded warehouse facilities and parking. PTP sought and was granted the right to intervene in this litigation, and in late 1998, a satisfactory resolution was reached. Read more about the chronology of the winery ordinance here.

In 1999, the wineries sought changes known as Amendments 128 abc, which if adopted, would allow expanded winery operations, wine processing buildings, public wine tasting buildings, retailing, packaged foods, and commercial products on a 15-acre parcel, with only 5 acres in actual vineyards, and no guarantee of locally sourced grapes. The Peninsula Township Board approved Amendment 128 with a vote of 3-2. Township residents, supported by PTP, successfully filed a petition for a referendum, which was stalled by litigation filed by one of the wineries under the guise of WOMP’s predecessor, The Agricultural Preservation League. After APL’s defeat in court, the vote proceeded. Old Mission Peninsula residents voted to overturn the Township’s Amendment 128 abc.

Attending and representing PTP at Township meetings. Mark Nadolski, current PTP Board President and one of the original founders, has attended upwards of 1200+ Township meetings over the years.

And more, from PTP’s website

  • Fought for an aesthetically-pleasing cell tower on the south end of the township. See pictures here.
  • Supported the creating and enhancement of the Peninsula Township Parks, including the Pelizzari Natural Area. More info here.
  • Helped to develop the scenic turnout above Chateau Grand Traverse (aka “Winery Hill,” once home to the Friedrich Tower).
  • Administered resident surveys to secure vital information that influenced Township priorities.
  • Participated in each master plan update.
  • Engaged in all ordinance creation and rewrites.
  • Opposed the proliferation of unregulated short-term rentals in residential districts.
  • Advocated for sensible infrastructure projects, e.g. sewer and water districts, and roadway designs.
  • Advised for appropriate subdivision design and density.
  • Promoted the single-waste hauler contract to help minimize the volume of heavy and slow-moving trucks on our roadways, thus avoiding traffic and road degradation.

In 1989, PTP was recognized as the Environmental Group of the Year by the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council. (Side note: Old Mission Gazette has also been honored by NMEAC.)

Current PTP Board members include Jill Byron, Mike Dettmer, Erin Gartland, John Jacobs, Al Jankowski, Dave Murphy, Mark Nadolski (current President), Penny Rosi and John Wunsch. Read more about their backgrounds here.

Thoughts? Sound off in the comments section below. Want to help support Protect the Peninsula and their mission? Click here to donate.

We Need Your Support!

Old Mission Gazette is a reader-supported newspaper, and we need your ongoing support to keep delivering OMP news, history, photos, events and more. Owners Tim and Jane Boursaw are devoted to the Old Mission Peninsula community, and every contribution, big or small, is valuable. Click HERE to support Old Mission Gazette. Thank you!


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