(The following is a response by Peninsula Township Supervisor Rob Manigold to Lou Santucci’s opinion piece regarding the ongoing winery lawsuit; read Lou’s opinion piece here… -jb)
As supervisor of Peninsula Township, and on behalf of Peninsula Township, I rarely find it necessary or appropriate to respond to an article on a pending legal matter. However, given the level of bloviating by the author of “has a few thoughts” and the misstatements contained therein, a response is required.
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Peninsula Township agrees that the wineries and the Township should work together to resolve the disputes that are pending in federal court. What the author of “has a few thoughts” has failed to disclose are the numerous attempts by the Township to engage the wineries to resolve the disputes.
Indeed, in 2020, prior to the wineries filing the lawsuit in March of 2021, the Township created a committee for the purpose of engaging the wineries and finding solutions to their request for modifications and changes to the portions of the zoning ordinance that concern wineries. Covid-19 delayed the completion of the process. Once the committee and the wineries had worked out any and all new language, the Township’s goal, as is required by law, was to present the new language to the residents of the township for their input.
By filing the lawsuit, the wineries have removed the residents of Peninsula Township from the process of amending a zoning ordinance. The residents’ voices are now silenced except as they are represented by the actions of the Township and by the citizen-led group called Protect the Peninsula.
Once the lawsuit was filed, the Township offered to re-engage in the committee meetings, but the request was denied by the wineries.
As part of the court’s scheduling order, it was mandatory that the parties engage in mediation. The Township and wineries engaged the services of Mediator Joseph Quandt to try to resolve the issues. Going into mediation, the Township was hopeful. Mediation rules prevent me from disclosing what was discussed during the mediation process, but suffice it to say that mediation was unsuccessful.
The Township has since offered to engage in the committee process once again, to no avail.
The Township stands ready and willing to engage the wineries on all issues, subject to all issues being brought before the residents of the township for consideration and a voice, but the wineries do not appear willing to engage in this process. I am sure Magistrate Ray Kent is unaware of the substantial settlement activity that has occurred in an attempt to resolve this matter when he made his comments as represented by the author of “has a few thoughts.”
Additionally, instead of engaging the Township in further dispute resolution, the wineries filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to have the court declare specific zoning ordinances that manage the impact the wineries have on other businesses and the residents of Peninsula Township illegal and preempted by the recent modification to the Michigan Liquor License Control Act.
To use a baseball analogy, the wineries are swinging for the fences with their motion, hoping the court will grant the motion. If this happens, the protections provided to the residents by the zoning ordinance will have to be revised, including the limitation on number of events such as weddings, the prohibition of full-blown restaurant operations, and other requests.
Fortunately, and with no other alternative given the wineries’ rebuff of the Township’s attempts to resolve this matter amicably, the Township responded to the motion filed by the wineries by filing its own request for summary judgment asking the court to rule in favor of the Township and finding that the zoning ordinance is not preempted by the Michigan Liquor License Control Commission.
Obviously, Magistrate Ray Kent was not aware of the motion filed by the wineries and the response seeking dismissal of the wineries’ lawsuit filed by the Township and the actual arguments made in the Township filings when he allegedly made comments on the potential merits of some of the claims asserted by the wineries. Of course, he would not be fully informed given that the only issue before the magistrate was the discovery issue.
It is not unusual for a magistrate or judge to continue to suggest that parties attempt to find a resolution to the issues involved in a case. In this case, the Township is willing to engage in settlement negotiations as long as any proposed modifications and/or changes are brought before the residents so their voices can be heard.
Finally, it is important to note that neither the judge nor the magistrate can rewrite the zoning ordinance if it is found to be illegal. Courts can only determine if an ordinance is legal or illegal. Therefore, if the wineries’ position is correct, which we do not believe is the case, the Township and wineries will be back at square one seeking to find acceptable language for the issues involved. This time, however, the residents of Peninsula Township will be able to have their say and to comment on the proposals.
The Township trustees’ job is to serve the interests of the residents. This includes everyone, not just a single industry, business, or individual. We are doing our best to fulfill this mandate.
Peninsula Township Supervisor