Wineries - Old Mission Peninsula Vineyard | Jane Boursaw Photo
Old Mission Peninsula Vineyard | Jane Boursaw Photo
Cory Holman's Pumpkin Patch on the Old Mission Peninsula

It’s an early Sunday morning in March. As I look through the doorway of our historic barn, I see beyond the strip of pasture, across the road, to the hillside of carefully tended grapes, the hill topped by a winery. Above this, the sun, brilliant, shining above all and light reflecting off the wings of flying birds. So serene, the only sounds are birds chirping, and an occasional car passing by. So grateful I am to live in such a beautiful place and enjoy such a moment.

As my thoughts drift to the recent WOMP lawsuit (Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula), I have to wonder, what will the view be five, ten, or twenty years from now? Will the vineyard still be there? Or will it be cleared, the hillside studded with houses or short-term rentals?

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There is a highway that separates the farm from the winery. But in the recent months, there is something far more that separates us. That is the WOMP lawsuit – Case No. 20-cv-01008, first filed on October 21, 2020, then amended January 4, 2021, by Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula Association and all 11 Peninsula wineries, against Peninsula Township in federal court.

This “autoimmune” attack on our Township government causes me great concern.

My Background

I am part of a farm family that still farms the land their forefathers did in the late 1800’s. Over time, our farm expanded, and we take care of others’ farms, as well. We continue to grow cherries and apples, and in this generation, we’ve tended vineyards and sell grapes to local wineries.

Overall, as farmers, we’ve enjoyed a cooperative atmosphere with the wineries we deal with. We’ve appreciated their support of local non-profits. We know people who earn their livelihood by working for the wineries. And when our out-of-town visitors arrive, they are thrilled when we take them to a local winery.

A Perplexing Development

Why this lawsuit by WOMP?

“WOMP’s purpose is to protect and promote the Old Mission Peninsula wine industry.” (PLAINTIFF’S FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT, page 6, item 39)

By definition, WOMP does not claim to be representing community interests, they are only interested in the wineries’ benefit. I understand WOMP claims its members’ constitutional rights have been violated and their businesses have suffered irreparable harm due to Peninsula Township ordinances.

Wait a minute – aren’t these essentially the same ordinances that the establishment of wineries were based on years ago?

Winery Dynamics

It was a different time, when this narrow strip of land between the bays was determined to be the perfect microclimate to grow grapes for world-class premium wines. Visionary entrepreneurs sought the perfect sites for their vineyards and wineries, which were allowed within agricultural zoning.

Certainly, the romance of growing wine grapes doesn’t pay the bills. Over the years, there have been changes in the business climate since the original ordinances were adopted. Competition among wineries has increased, from 64 Michigan wineries in 2009, rising to 150 in 2019.1 Vineyards are expensive – they occupy acres of valuable land, are labor intensive, and the crop is subject to the forces of nature.

There is more money cultivating a winery as an event center. For example, hosting weddings/receptions. In other locales, even rustic barns with improvements can rent for $6,000 – $12,000 per event.2 How much more can be charged in a facility that offers food, drink and lodging? If the community tolerates the resulting additional traffic, noise, and extended hours of operation, how many more different kinds of events can be scheduled?

Remember “Agritourism”? The vineyard in association with the winery was a draw for visitors. And now? It appears the business model is changing – more winery, less agriculture.

“These monies that Plaintiffs are forced to spend on fruit from local farmers could be spent in other areas of the businesses or to purchase fruit from farmers outside of Peninsula Township, or Michigan.” (PLAINTIFF’S FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT, page 26, item 211)

It appears the demand for wine remains good, but the commitment to support the local agricultural community via the Township ordinance is now an undesirable burden. Is this a prelude to reducing winery-owned vineyard acreage? Perhaps leading to wineries without vineyards?

By initiating the lawsuit against Peninsula Township, WOMP has chosen confrontation over negotiation through the zoning process. Therefore, the Township needs to be proactive and anticipate the increasing number of wineries, intensity of use, and impact on the community.

Topics of Concern:

1) Noise. Outdoor events are LOUD. Sound respects no property lines. Sound travel is influenced by topography, bodies of water, temperature and distance. I have experienced this on more than one occasion. With amplified music being played at the winery, the sound traveled down a hill, across the road, along the side of a house, and across my driveway to the porch where I sat. It was still so loud I could name the titles of the music played.

An entertainment venue should not impose its activities upon its neighbors. The Township needs to establish a quantifiable way to measure sound trespass, set a limit, and exercise a code of enforcement, effective 24 hours a day. Imagine if your home were sandwiched in between two or more wineries broadcasting music at the same time! Ideally, amplified music and/or voice should be restricted to be within an enclosed building.

2) Protecting Our Parks and Other Township Properties. Our parks should not become exclusive staging areas for winery tours or unregulated parking for off-site events. The sound ordinance must be enforced to control amplified sound originating on and off Township properties, as well.

3) Winery Ordinance. We need to address the exclusive rights granted to wineries by the winery ordinance. Why retain it as a special class? How about cideries and breweries? The Peninsula has had a maraschino cherry processing plant for decades. They are long time buyers of local light sweet cherries. Shouldn’t they be allowed to serve alcoholic drinks garnished with the traditional maraschino cherry?

4) Special Uses. What happens if a winery no longer has a vineyard or ceases to exist? The buildings and infrastructure are already there. Do the special uses continue? Has the zoning ordinance been thwarted?

5) Consistent Enforcement of Ordinances by the Township. We cannot rely on a piecemeal series of complaints from residents alone, often ignored and forgotten.

6) Traffic. Traffic counts should be performed on a periodic basis to include the numbers and types of vehicles and times of day. Results can be used to discover trends and for planning uses.

7) Lighting. Exterior lighting limited per Township Ordinance should not increase or be changed for wineries.

8) PDR Properties. Determine whether a redefinition of a winery would affect the existing PDR properties (Purchase of Development Rights), allowing dwellings and additional development. The community has voted for millages to fund the PDR program to ensure these properties remain free from that development.

This situation is complicated and it will take time. It should not be rushed. It needs the shared perspectives from all of us to make a harmonious system. It is only natural the wineries would want to grow and thrive. It is only natural that we other residents, including farmers, retirees, and families, want to retain our quality of life and ensure our interests. After all, there are only three two-lane roads on and off the Peninsula – the Peninsula is almost an island.

Let’s work together in a constructive process to make sure everyone’s interests are heard, rather than prolong the process by battling it out in court or through private settlement.

1Michigan Agriculture, “A Toast to Michigan”, 2020 Edition, Vol. 7, pg. 36
2Successful Farming, “Getting Hitched on the Farm”, March 2021, pg. 62

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22 COMMENTS

  1. This IS the bottom line, and it erases any connotation of partnership.:
    “By definition, WOMP does not claim to be representing community interests, they are only interested in the wineries’ benefit.”
    Sad, so very sad. We pray our elected officials stand firm. Thanks, Laura, for your sagacity and fortitude.

  2. It’s like someone building homes next door to a long time hog farm, then trying to shut it down because it smells (it has happened!). Our family has owned property on the OMP for a hundred years, as have many others. Our right to peace and quiet DOES count.

  3. As a newcomer 12 years on the peninsula and farmer I have to say that there is a prejudice against the wineries when they seek to make changes to a business model that may have been good 20 or more years ago but needs to change in order to compete.
    It is my understanding that the wineries were negotiating with the township and then the township refused to continue the dialogue. The wineries I am sure undertook this lawsuit with some concern. It is not inexpensive and certainly would have preferred negotiation. Citing cold legalese from the lawsuit may make it sound horrible to the reader but to a lawyer of which I am one it is typical for a lawsuit which usually is devoid of emotion etc.
    The real question here is are the Protect the Peninsula people willing to let any changes occur or will they continue to try to block anything at all with regard tp the wineries or the peninusla for that matter that they dont like. Past history does not bode well. As a farmer family I am sure you remember the tractorcade the last time around when farmers took to the road to express their unhappiness with the wine ordinance under consideration then. I do like your proposal to have traffic monitored and see if there are alternatives ways to address traffic concerns other than a complete shutdown
    My house is right on Center road in Cherry season the tucks fly down the road loaded with cherries to get them to the market quickly and return just as quickly to load up. It is part of life here. Should we ban the trucks because the make noise or add to the congestion. How about farmers who drive their equipment up and down center road and cause traffic backuos should we ban hem while we are at it. No ,I revel in the hum of activity knowing that Michigan is first and foremost a farm state and proud to be growing my apples, raspberries and grapes as part of the agriculture world we live in. i’ll take the noise and traffic over a barren lifeless peninsula anytime.

      • Do you live right across from one of these wineries? Because I do. Tonight against our will, we were forced to listen to people screaming a bad rendition, at the top of their lungs, of Bohemian Raposody amongst many others. We have a fire pit on our five acres that is right on that side of the winery. Do I and MY guests have a right to listen to the music we prefer or none at all if we choose or do the wineries have the right to force their noise pollution on us for their profit. We have invested a lot in our property and we pay a lot in taxes. We also have rights. At this point , from what I’ve seen tonight, it is invasive and blatant disregard for the people who live near by. We did not sign up for this.

    • The township did not refuse to negotiate, negotiations were suspended due to the COVID 19 shut down. Before negotiations were restarted the wineries filed suit.

  4. this is my opinion and nothing more! but perhaps you would like to acquaint yourself with the writings of Jonathan Swift and while I do not come close to his literary ability I do often find that the use of sarcasm and exaggeration helps make a point.
    “Jonathan Swift is undoubtedly one, if not the most, prominent satirical writers of the eighteenth century. In his writings he presents a blatant social criticism mocking the political, social, and religious norms of Irish society through the use of irony and exaggeration. Via his bizarre story telling in his essay “A Modest Proposal,” he elevates the politics of society to a level of barefaced absurdity which in turn, requires the reader to think logically while reading this work. Swift’s exaggerated use of satire as a device to reveal the corruption of society in his writing has not only contributed to his legacy as a pronounced satirist, but helped shape the literary genre of satire as a whole.”

  5. “Autoimmune attack”. What a perfect metaphor. A part of the body wantonly attacking the rest of the body.
    Mr. Santucci is incorrect. The Township did not refuse to continue the dialogue. The wineries just weren’t getting what they wanted (commercial event hosting, late hours, outdoor amplified music, etc.). So, they decided to ditch the established, community oriented mechanism for zoning change and take the Township to court. In doing so, the wineries have forced the rest of us taxpayers to foot the bill to defend the lawsuit they brought. If the wineries want to be good neighbors, they should offer to reimburse taxpayers for the legal costs the wineries are imposing upon them.

  6. And your source for this knowledge is what or should i say whom?
    What specifically did they not get their way on according to you?
    Maybe it was as simple as the town refusing to bend on anything. I do not know but i do know that in the past the township has been unwilling to move. Take the serving of food as a good example. It took the state telling the township to allow the serving of food with the drinks people were consuming. Anyone knows putting people on the road with drinks and no food is a recipe for disaster.
    Legal redress is usually the last resort and I am sure the wineries gave it careful thought before going down this road.
    Don’t forget the owners are residents here too and pay taxes just like you and I.

    • As someone who over the last 30 years was present for, and was meticulously attentive to, all versions of winery use amendments in Peninsula Township, I feel an obligation to correct published errors of fact.
      The following claim in Mr. Santucci’s opinion piece is not correct:
      “the Township prohibited the wineries from serving food with wine…… It took the Michigan Liquor Control Commission ordering the Township to change before anything was done”.
      Correction:
      The township has always allowed small plates of food to be served in the tasting rooms.
      The March 13, 1990 Special Use Permit for Chateau Chantal made no reference to disallow or allow cheese and crackers or other small plates with tastings, and they were considered a typical tasting activity in the tasting room to cleanse the pallet between tasting. The township never made any effort to restrict that activity.
      As a result of a request in 1996 by Bob Begin to make an amendment to his special use permit the Township Board passed specific standards to define small plate service for tastings in the tasting room. At that point the common practice of food with tastings, which the township had all along allowed, became a stated and clearly defined allowed use.
      The state liquor commission never ordered the township to allow this food, which it was already allowing. When the liquor commission eventually allowed sale of wine by the glass, they did require a minimum amount of food be served with that wine sold by the glass. Since it was now legal for wineries to sell by the glass, the wineries requested that right be included in the ordinance and the township honored that request by allowing sale of wine by the glass. The township was already compliant with the liquor commission requirement that a minimum amount of food be served with that wine sold by the glass, due to the same small plate food previously allowed. Appropriately that small plate service is still allowed to this day.

  7. I support the OMP staying the way that it is, not facilitating the ‘Whineries’ events!
    I will send my monetary support to Protect The Peninsula.

  8. The township did not refuse to negotiate, negotiations were suspended due to the COVID 19 shut down. Before negotiations were restarted the wineries filed suit.

  9. I do not think it was that simple. It seems like covid is the go to excuse when people do not want to do something. Did the town say to the wineries we will restart talks on this date. I think the answer was no, they kept stalling, maybe saying covid covid covid. But inerestingly enough the township was able to hold committee meetings, board meetings etc etc. I participated in planning committee meetings by zoom and watched the township meetings on my computer. Seems like when the town wants something to happen it does.
    Hopefully, the judge can get the parties to agree and accommodations will be found to balance the concerns of the wineries and others. I think there is a way forward and it may take a Solomon like judge to work it out.

  10. Mr. Santucci, your newly formed private entity, Protect The Peninsula Farmers LLC is not the only group that would like to see a negotiated settlement of the Wineries of Old Mission (WOMP) lawsuit. Protect the Peninsula, a non-profit citizen advocacy group working for decades to protect quality of life on Old Mission Peninsula, supports calls for a reasonable approach to find balance between farming, residential needs, and commercial enterprises. The way to do this is through Michigan’s zoning process, not through a private settlement of a federal lawsuit without full opportunity for all community voices to be heard. As a lawyer, I assume you understand and endorse the fundamental right of citizens to have a voice in their community. Join us in calling for WOMP to dismiss its lawsuit and come to the Peninsula Township table and exercise its zoning rights with full community participation.

  11. Those of us who stayed on Old Mission Bay in the summer in 80’s (or so) will remember the noise that came from parties on Haserot Beach on Sat nights and how the sound carried, particularly compared to what happens in big cities.

    We actually hoped for rain on those nights so we could get some peace and quiet.

  12. It is not true that small plates can be served by every winery. If it is not in the SUP then the winery can not serve small plates. if I am wrong please show me where I am on this point.
    So what is a small plate? Perhaps you could ask the township what they consider a small plate. Is a small plate anything on a 5 inch plate or a 7 inch plate , is a 9 inch plate a small plate or is it a few slices of cheese and a cherry tomato on this small plate ?
    This is one of the ridiculous rules and the vague and uncertainty that the wineries who even have an sup to serve a small plate, face each day.
    Let’s not engage in countless back and forth the rules need updating Why should a winery be prevented from serving a hot dog if it chooses. Or a steak for that matter. Who is harmed? Are you hurt by me eating a sandwich rather than a tomato slice?
    The township loves to clamp down on these things.Who can forget the township going after yoga in the vines! Wow that must really be a bothersome activity for the folks who find anything to fault when it comes to activities at the wineries. I know there are people who want to stop any and all activity by the wineries or others on the peninsula. They want to live in a cosseted world where only they can live and stop anyone else from moving here by forcing legit developments to go to court because a few people have the money to fund their own lawsuits. And if that doesn’t work then they try to destroy someone’s property like the recent defacing of private property that occurred last year.
    While some may applaud this type of behavior I do not. I fail to comprehend why there is so much negativity when it comes to the wineries. Wouldn’t it be a better world if the township took the attitude of what can we do to help you and not just with the wineries but with the citizens as well.
    Unfortunately that is not the attitude and as a result when people are within the rules they are often blocked from moving forward and their only recourse is a lawsuit.
    Why is it just our peninsula that faces so many lawsuits. I was told a story of how the town of traverse city approached someone who was denied a business opportunity on the peninsula with the words how can we help you. Have you ever heard those words coming from the township administrators. No instead we have paid officials who make it their business to seek out violations at every turn. Even the most picky things like a small sign 74 instead of 75 feet from the roadway center.
    Recently at a town meeting one of our citizens said why didn’t the zoning person just knock on my door instead of sending an intimidating letter threatening legal action. Our officials have no sense of the small town feel that ought to be the rule on our peninsula. Do you want big city impersonal interrelationships, because thats what we have now and it will only get worse unless we as citizens say we want a different approach. So yes I am in favor of the wineries getting a fair shake and so far I don’t think they have nor do I see that happening without an unbiased third party such as a judge
    with no ax to grind for either side stepping in.

  13. I too have been struck at the township’s dogged determination about rules. It seems a lot isn’t allowed, like Airbnb’s, that whole short term rental rule. However, I found out it’s not really enforced, at least not evenly or consistency. I have a second home there. When friends visited someone showed up to make sure they weren’t renting my house. At the same time many Airbnb’s on the peninsula can be found online. I reported one (google cabin on the bluff old mission and you’ll find Dave’s place on Kroupa Road) was told “the guy is being very cooperative “. This was mentioned twice in the email I received. What does this have to do with anything. I was also told the person tries to rent for 30 days and if it’s less, he waits 30 days before re-renting. Who believes this nonsense?! It’s book all spring and summer currently. $139 a night. That would $4170
    for 30 days. I could make some serious money if I rented my house but I’m following the rules and somehow feel I wouldn’t get away with it if I did.

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