(Editor’s Note: This piece is written by the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula (WOMP), who respond to some of the recent comments about the ongoing winery lawsuit filed by WOMP against Peninsula Township. Read their amended complaint here; read all winery lawsuit news and opinions here … jb)
OMP neighbors, we hear you loud and clear! Wineries seek not to stain the community beauty, but to celebrate and preserve it via agricultural opportunities.
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Old Mission Peninsula wineries have been requesting action be taken by Peninsula Township to correct portions of the ordinance that are illegal. Wineries are not asking for rights that are not already granted to them by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission via their winemaking permits.
Wineries have been meeting with different planners and subcommittees of the Peninsula Township Planning Commission since 2008 in public sessions to address these topics – see Exhibit 1 here. After 12-plus years of talks, taking legal action was the last resort in accomplishing an update to bring the ordinance into legal standing as indicated by the Township lawyer in Exhibit 2 – see Exhibit 2 here.
In that process, wineries were asking for an impact-based ordinance – one that wineries can understand and abide by as good neighbors. One that mitigates the impact of noise, light and public safety concerns, but that does not dictate “who” can partake in a winery’s services. Progress was reached between the winery language subcommittee, planner and attendees to the numerous public meetings in 2019 and early 2020. After a draft was returned to the winery group removing many of the negotiated topics and progressive language discussed in the public meeting, it was clear progress would not be accomplished via this usual ‘ordinance language re-write’ process.
For example, the current ordinance requires a winery-chateau to buy 1.25 tons of grapes from another grape grower to earn one person at a winery event. Furthermore, that event can only be a certain segment of the Grand Traverse non-profit or agriculture community. If it’s a 111-person wedding or a 111-person dinner event for the Cherryland Humane Society – why dictate the “who” rather than focus on the impact?
Another example of arbitrary ordinance writing is the 111-person maximum at a winery-chateau event. This was written specifically for the capacity of the dining room at Chateau Chantal. Why should that maximum be applied to other facilities that may be smaller or larger? Clarity and impact mitigation are the pathway to addressing the community concerns. Some wineries did build with these rules in mind, and others worked diligently for years to create a pathway to do business.
Part of a winery’s success is driven by the natural beauty of our Peninsula. Wineries are intensely interested in preserving that beauty through agriculture and good stewardship of the land. Winery owners are made up of families, long established on the OMP. They also reside here. Through the value-added agriculture businesses established by winery families, the Peninsula has been able to keep land in ag. Where the cherry market has failed some, wineries have replaced those fields with ag, not subdivisions, and provided a mechanism for modernization and ability to survive as farmers.
Wineries are taxed commercially. The following charts show winery land as 8.4 percent of total Peninsula acreage, with wineries paying 18.2 percent of the total property tax revenue. While their vineyards and orchards are taxed as ag, the driveways/parking, tasting rooms, and winery facilities are all taxed at the higher commercial rate like Peninsula Market, the Seven Hills commercial area, or any of the restaurants on the Old Mission Peninsula.
The wineries and the Township worked together for more than 25 hours of mediation to create a settlement agreement that considers and protects our fellow residents, the wineries, and the Township. The members of WOMP (Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula) were surprised and disappointed after this negotiation that the Township refused to sign this agreement. As always, the wineries remain committed to operating our businesses in a manner that respects the rights of all community members.
Whether at a winery or a local farm, hosting events that connect visitors to our agricultural region can be done in a manner that respects our community with limits on impacts like noise and traffic. Opportunities like events provide a setting to sell more OMP products and wine. Successful OMP farms and vineyards = more green space protected from development.