Longtime Old Mission Peninsula resident and farmer Barb Wunsch, along with 19 other OMP farmers, weighs in on the importance of a level playing field between farmers and wineries in the following letter to the Peninsula Township Board and Planning Commission. This letter is included in the packet for the upcoming Township Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 at 7 p.m. at the Township Hall. See the full agenda and packet on the Township’s website here.
To the Peninsula Township Board and Planning Commission:
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We the undersigned represent a majority of the remaining farmland in Peninsula Township. It is fair to say that we also represent the entire spectrum of opinions related to future development and growth on the Old Mission Peninsula, which has placed us at odds with each other for decades, and in some cases for generations.
The common thread between each of our farms is that we are significant landowners and land managers in Peninsula Township who have not developed wineries on our farms. We are mostly multigenerational farmers, and some of us have advocated for farmland preservation and the strict limitation of development in the township, while others have championed free market principles and a robust view of property rights.
While our attitudes toward development vary, we all place value on the maintenance of working lands and a level playing field on which we can continue the legacy of our businesses into the future. We disagree on many of the issues facing our township, but we are petitioning together today to ensure that our due process and equal protection rights as non-winery farm owners are protected and to try to chart a path forward that will ensure that our farms have a fair opportunity to succeed and flourish in the rapidly evolving policy and cultural environments of Peninsula Township.
Over the course of the past five decades, our farms have remained committed to a large degree to production agriculture, and we have managed the ups and downs of weather and market cycles to remain competitive in the changing agricultural economy of Peninsula Township. As major landowners, we have followed the WOMP (Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula) vs. Peninsula Township lawsuit closely, and feel that it is necessary at this point to appeal for a number of the revenue-generating and value-added opportunities that have been afforded to our friends and neighbors in the wine industry to be extended to us as well.
These options have historically been extended to wineries but prohibited on the traditional tree fruit farms that still make up a majority of the township’s farmland. Non-winery farms are currently incredibly shut out of most direct market and agritourism opportunities — essentially, we are allowed only a 150-square-foot roadside stand to sell local produce, while our neighbors in the wine industry are able to lodge overnight guests, sell small plates, host a variety of events, ship a majority of their wine product into the township from the West Coast, and sell ancillary products from their retail venues.
It is unreasonable to expect non-winery farmers to provide a service to the broader community in terms of maintenance of rural character, viewsheds and open spaces while allowing a separate category of businesses on agriculturally-zoned land to capitalize on these value-added opportunities. This disparity has been corrosive to the orchard business in Peninsula Township, and has foreclosed succession opportunities for many of our family farms.
It is unreasonable for the township to force us to abandon crops and production methodologies that have worked for us for decades and build wineries in order to capitalize on business opportunities that the township has decided can rightly be categorized as agriculture, and which the market has priced into the value of local farmland.
As a group, we neither criticize nor support the property rights that have been extended to winery owners, but due to the probability that these rights may soon be dramatically expanded, we must request that the same rights be extended to us, regardless of whether we choose to build a winery or not.
While there are many excellent farmers in the township, the vast discrepancy between the 150-square-foot roadside stand afforded to tree fruit and truck farmers and the multiple retail and service channels currently permitted to wineries creates a dramatically lopsided playing field. A further expansion of winery rights without respect for our rights will lead to a scenario in which most of us will either be forced to develop our own wineries or sell out to winery developers over time.
We would argue that this scenario is not inevitable, but rather a logical and predictable outcome of a policy environment in which non-winery farmers face a restrictive policy environment while wineries are provided a much more comprehensive set of property rights within their operations.
If the wineries win their lawsuit or achieve concessions from the township, the competitive landscape of agricultural lands in Peninsula Township will be further shifted to our disadvantage, and we would respectfully submit that the following activities should be extended to our operations by right with no greater acreage or lot coverage restrictions than are required of winery chateaus currently or as policies change in the future.
In addition, we would request that any future property rights that are extended to wineries within the bundle of agricultural property rights also be extended to non-winery owners on agriculturally-zoned land.
Lodging is considered to be an agricultural use within the bundle of property rights extended to winery chateaus. Given the increased interest in farmstays and agritourism in our region, we would request that lodging options be expanded for agricultural producers not involved in the wine industry.
At a minimum, we would request as a use by right short-term rental opportunities for the traditional second house/guest house that exists on many of our farms, as well as seasonal farmstay opportunities for our farm labor housing when it is not being utilized by full-time farm employees.
In addition to balancing a competitive landscape that is shifting rapidly in favor of winery chateaus, a use by right short-term rental category for legacy and farm labor housing buildings would increase the quality of aging and/or seasonally utilized on-farm housing. This would both improve the aesthetic appeal of secondary and legacy housing units on larger farms, as well as ensure better quality housing options for the seasonal workforce on whom our township farmers and vintners rely.
We are open to ordinance language that would create some guardrails around use by right lodging on our farms, but the existing winery chateau and B&B special use permits (SUP) have not been effective at creating new revenue-generating channels for working farms on the Peninsula, as evidenced by the fact that none of our farms currently operate these types of ventures.
Additionally, we would request that SUP lodging for winery chateaus be removed from the winery chateau ordinance and opened up to all agricultural producers without regard for their involvement in wine production and/or sales.
The plaintiffs in the WOMP lawsuit also assert that private events including weddings are an agricultural use. The township has consistently pushed back against the idea of allowing wedding barns or other event uses of legacy structures on OMP farms without wineries. Many of the working farms in the township include legacy buildings that create historical and aesthetic value for the township, but that do not have significant economic value to current farming operations.
We would propose either a use by right or simple SUP process to allow these structures and/or new structures to be used to host weddings and other events if this right is maintained or expanded for wine businesses. If events and event spaces are an agricultural use for wineries, they should be an agricultural use for all farms that meet the acreage and lot coverage requirements for wineries allowed to conduct these activities.
Food service is currently allowed on a limited basis within wineries without regard for the origin of food products (small plates). For farms and farmstands, food service options are very restrictive, and require that farmers use exclusively or primarily ingredients sourced from their own land, sold through the 150-square-foot farmstand.
From our understanding, the winery lawsuit seeks to allow standalone restaurants on winery properties without regard for the origin of the ingredients. The current state is an absurd and unjust discrepancy, and a future in which wineries are allowed to operate one restaurant per 50-acre parcel with an SUP or one restaurant per 20-acre parcel as a use by right, while producers of other crops are excluded from doing the same will only deepen the imbalance.
We would request that if wineries are permitted enhanced or unlimited restaurant/food service rights, that the same concessions be made to non-winery farms that will place our operations on a level playing field with wineries. If orchardists must compete for scarce farmland resources with restaurant developers, our industry will have limited potential for future survival, whereas if we are able to partner with restauranteurs in joint ag/restaurant ventures, local farm businesses will be better able to survive in the new regulatory environment.
We would propose that our food and beverage options be no more limited than those of wineries (i.e. identical requirements for food service, alcohol sales, and hours of operation). We understand that restaurant developments could be more complex than lodging or events, and could foresee a simplified SUP process to designate a portion of our farms for restaurant use and a portion for agricultural use.
Peninsula Township currently makes it easier to build a small winery than to build an indoor market or a temporary tented market to sell farm produce. We would request that the township allow as a use by right the construction of farm markets of a reasonable size, as well as the use of temporary structures such as tents for the sales of locally-grown farm products, with restrictions on merchandising that are no more restrictive than those faced by winery tasting rooms.
Open Space, Working Lands, and Clustering
While we have different philosophies regarding the extent to which development ought to be allowed in Peninsula Township, we are all actively engaged in agriculture and place value on the future availability and optimization of Peninsula Township farmland.
Therefore, we would encourage the township when seeking new accommodations both for our businesses and to placate WOMP to explore policies that will balance the maintenance of working lands against the increased commercialization that the township has opted to allow on agriculturally-zoned parcels.
Surface parking lots and sprawl should be minimized to the extent possible, clustering and density of commercial agricultural activities should be encouraged, and commercial agricultural activities should be predicated on the preservation of working lands rather than creating a burdensome requirement for ornamental lot coverage that is only tangentially related to agritourism or commercial agricultural activities.
Barbara Wunsch, Adele Wunsch, Dean Johnson, Raul Gomez, Emma Smith, Joanne Westphal, Dave Edmondson, Nathan Lorenz, Annika Lorenz, John Lyon, Wendy Warren, Jeremiah Warren, Kathleen Seibold, Lew Seibold, Jeff Manigold, Lois Manigold, Bev Gore, Mike Gore, Steve Sobkowski, Nikki Sobkowski
Mrs. Wunsch’s detailed reasoning is well explained and seems pretty sensible.
Let’s see the Planning Commission andTownship Board give ALL points of this proposal the attention it deserves towards preserving the viability of the Peninsula’s agricultural heritage and precious farmland production.
[…] Opinion: Farmers Should Have Same Rights as Wineries Old Mission Gazette […]
Logical and eloquently presented. Old Mission Farms need the same rights as wineries. They are the ultimate foundation of Old Mission Peninsula and should be protected and supported as such.
This was very well written, and I agree. As I mentioned on the Nextdoor App, I think our priorities are all screwed up if we provide special dispensation for wineries to profit unequally while selling a product that causes cancer, car accidents, etc, while we don’t allow farmers that grow healthy, life sustaining fruits and veggies the same opportunities!
[…] W. William Rudolph responds to Barb Wunsch’s opinion piece posted on the Gazette this weekend here. He says the ordinance favors wineries over traditional farming, and there should be no special […]
An eloquent letter regarding the rights of non-winery farmers. I’m glad the wineries are here. They’ve helped give more value to the land that would otherwise face development. However, a real backbone of our legacy and future, is in the maintenance of our non-winery farms. In a basic opportunity test, the farmer is on the short end of the stick relative to the wineries. It makes logical sense that the farmers be afforded equal opportunity to have their land bring value to them so that they are maintained as farms. Yes, that may mean more tourist business and traffic. However, if we look forward 20 years, if the farmers are nudged out by wineries, this traffic and business is going to happen, driven by wineries. Probably as likely, developers will allow the farmers a lucrative out. Though it will bring more traffic and tourists (going to happen anyway), I would like to see the farmers and the farmland preserved. The best way to do that is to allow farmers to reap more value from their agricultural domains.
Mr. Cauchy makes some well based observations and realistic projections for future land use and its consequences.
We need to give producing farms all the land use advantages the Peninsula’s beautiful wineries have., preserve open space, view sheds and reduce the development of dense subdivisions, which have a much greater impact on altering the land and drainage capacities.
More residential subdivisions create drainage and flooding tendencies which we see now along places like Bluff Road where previous farms, now subdivisions likely trigger, contribute to and cause flooding by altering natural drainage courses, and the land’s capacity to absorb rainwaters.
As usual, once more residences are establishes, it seems we are all reluctant to pay for much needed rains to handle stormwater, hydraulic pressure from underground springs and geothermal HVAC discharges. Going in, developers rarely calculate and install proper drainage and the result is flooding of roads and adjacent properties.
I would like to add, similar growing rural communities which rely on septic fields and wells facing increased residential developments have eliminated 1/2 acre lot zoning and made 1 acre lot minimums. Developer find little different in their profits. In the two communities I served, we found 1/2 acre lots that by necessity come with wells and septic fields spaced out at most every 100 feet are simply not sustainable. Drinking water quality will suffer. If we are going to continue to allow 1/2 lots, then we need either public water or public sewer for sustainability in those zones.
We should see our PC and Board dealing with both production farm uses and the question of whether and where to continue to allow 1/2 residential lots where public water or sewer is not available.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
[…] At recent Township meetings involving the ongoing winery lawsuit, farmers have expressed dismay that the items requested in the lawsuit are not available to traditional farmers. Read more thoughts in Rudy Rudolph’s opinion piece here, and Barb Wunsch’s opinion piece here. […]
[…] Opinion: Farmers Should Have Same Rights as Wineries […]
[…] Winery Ordinance Restrictions Stand Wineries Respond to Recent Comments – Winery Lawsuit Opinion: Farmers Should Have Same Rights as Wineries Peninsula Township Board Rejects Winery Demands – […]
[…] about the same time, 19 agricultural producers on the Peninsula requested parity of the special uses the wineries were being given since they were […]