(Editor’s Note: Rudy Rudolph, a member of the Citizens Agricultural Advisory Committee, offers a few thoughts on the purpose of the committee, their progress so far, and his views on wineries, farmland and more. At the Township Board’s May 10 meeting, the Board voted to continue the committee, which meets on the fourth Thursday of the month, 10 a.m. at the Township Hall. All residents are welcome to attend. – jb)
In response to the ongoing winery lawsuit, Peninsula Township formed a Citizens Agricultural Advisory Committee to consider the points outlined in the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula lawsuit. The charge to the committee was to see if there could be any compromises and make such recommendations to Township officials.
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As envisioned, the committee was to be composed of: three general residents, three agricultural operators, three “Protect the Peninsula” representatives, and three winery representatives. Unfortunately, the wineries have not participated to date. The committee started meeting in December of 2021. (Editor’s Note: At the May 10 meeting of the Township Board, Township Planner Jen Cram requested to add three more agricultural operators to the committee. -jb)
To better understand the points of contention brought in the lawsuit, the committee did a detailed review of the ordinances that are currently in place, and carefully considered the comments and concerns that citizens have stated during previous public hearings. The intent being to gain a good understanding of the history and the intent of the contended ordinances.
Review of Current Ordinances
There are three ordinances pertaining to winery operations within Peninsula Township, as I understand them:
- Farm Processing Facility: This ordinance came into being in 2002 after the Township Board passed a winery ordinance that had been provided by winery owners and winery proponents, and which was defeated in a referendum by citizens who felt it lacked necessary safeguards. Representatives of wineries and residents met for many months and collaborated to create this amendment to allow greater flexibility for the wineries. It included the reference to appellation wine, “Old Mission Peninsula Wine,” and the requirement for the majority of the wine produced, 85 percent, to come from grapes grown on the Peninsula.
- Winery-Chateau: This ordinance originated in 1989 through discussions with the founder of Chateau Chantel, who wanted to expand the operation of a winery to include guest facilities and limited meeting and restaurant operations, catering specifically to those registered guests.
- Remote Winery Tasting Rooms: This ordinance appeared in late 1998 to accommodate a winery owner that did not have a good marketing location and desired to establish a tasting room on Center Road, remote from the vineyard and processing operation. It also allowed for the adaptive use of an historic schoolhouse.
Promotion of Agricultural Diversity
After studying these ordinances, it is my conclusion that the intent was to promote diversification of the agricultural uses of A-1 zoned land on the Peninsula. Detailed study shows that meetings and activities, hosted by wineries, would only be allowed if they were clearly agricultural or educational in nature, promoting the specific products being produced, from fruit grown on the Old Mission Peninsula.
In all cases, as near as I have been able to tell, these ordinances were developed through open negotiations between winery owner/operators and Township officials. The winery chateau and remote tasting room ordinances were considered expanded operations (greater than merely growing, processing and marketing of agricultural crops from the farm site). For the winery chateau, allowance was made for guest accommodations and supporting activities specifically for those guests. For the remote tasting room accommodation was made for a marketing operation separate from the growing and processing site.
Both of these allowances required the approval of special use permits and introduced restrictions on the acreage necessary for their establishment. These restrictions recognize the higher intensity land use and the potential for conflicts with neighboring residential uses of the land.
Agriculture versus Tourism
Based on a review of the demands by the eleven wineries in their lawsuit, it appears that the original operation of the wineries was agricultural in nature; that is, growing a crop, processing a crop and marketing of the resulting product, has now morphed into a tourism-based business plan. This means that the wineries apparently now see their operations as more commercial in nature rather than strictly agricultural.
Operating as commercial wedding and meeting venues, operating as commercial restaurants or food catering services, operating as entertainment venues open until 2 a.m., serving alcoholic beverages other than those specifically grown and processed by their vineyard, and able to merchandise products other than those which were produced through the agricultural operations on their A-1 zoned property are clearly, in my opinion, no longer agricultural in nature. They are, instead, commercial in nature and intended to attract and extract tourist dollars as commercial entities.
Based on the review of current winery ordinances, these are operations that I think were clearly never intended on A-1 zoned agricultural land on Old Mission Peninsula.
Very Concentrated Winery Operations
A limited number of such commercial operations could perhaps be accommodated without unduly encroaching on the rights of other residents on the Peninsula. However, the situation has evolved beyond this point. There are currently twelve wineries operating on Old Mission Peninsula with another three wineries in the process of opening up. This means, on a land area less than 29 square miles, there will be more than one winery for every two square miles. I think this is the densest concentration of wineries in the State of Michigan at this point.
By comparison we already have 35 times more wineries per square mile than the county of Leelanau. Granted, much of Leelanau County is water, which does help to separate residences from potential conflicts. But even if you extract all of the water area and only compare land masses, Peninsula Township currently has over five times more wineries per square mile than Leelanau County.
Conflicts with Neighboring Land Uses
The current ordinances are lenient with respect to the land required to open a winery. A winery can open with 40 acres of land under its control. The acreage can be distributed between two separate 20 acre parcels. These smaller acreage operations greatly increase the likelihood of conflict with neighboring farms and residents. And, according to the Township’s zoning administrator, there are continuous inquiries into the availability of land and the requirements to open a new winery.
It is also pretty clear to me that granting all the rights demanded in the winery lawsuit, to even the wineries currently in existence today, will lead to further increased conflict with the residential property owners on the Peninsula. Already, the operations of the wineries in existence, because of increased noise and traffic, have led to more than 1000 citizen complaints being filed with the Township during the last year.
Because the Peninsula geometry is by nature long and narrow, with limited access and that access through sometimes dense residential communities, there is, in essence, no escape from this potential encroachment.
Simplifying the Agricultural Ordinances
After careful review, the committee has recommended to the Township Board that the Winery-Chateau ordinance be removed and replaced with an updated Farm Processing Ordinance. This recommendation is based on an attempt to bring all agricultural operators into parity with regard to the ordinances. This is an often expressed desire by agricultural operators that interface with the committee.
Removal of this ordinance would have no effect on existing operators, so long as they abide by the terms of their current special use permits. Further, it is recommended that the farm processing ordinance is equally applicable to any legitimate farm processing operation, not just wineries.
Mitigating Future Conflicts
One way to mitigate the opportunities for future conflict with neighboring residents is to increase the required number of acres needed to open a farm processing facility that requires a liquor license. With this in mind, the committee has recommended to the Township that the required number of acres for such a facility be increased from 50 to 80 acres, under ownership and contiguous. Such a move would automatically allow for increased setbacks for activities likely to cause conflict.
Voice your opinion
It is important to all the citizens of the Old Mission Peninsula to understand that these are only committee recommendations at this point. They were not unanimously adopted, rather being passed by a majority of the committee. The Planning Commission must now review them and then they must go through a normal public hearing process before they can be formally made into a recommendation to the Town Board.
Timing is critical. At the Planning Commission meeting of May 16, the commission asked for more time to address these recommendations. A special meeting is now scheduled for Monday, May 23, 7 p.m. at the Township Hall. There will be time on the agenda for public comment, and you’re welcome to submit comments via email to Township Planner Jen Cram, [email protected], or mail to Peninsula Township, 13235 Center Rd., Traverse City, MI 46986.
As a citizen of Peninsula Township, you should make your thoughts known about these proposed changes to your Township officials. It is important to voice your position on this subject so that your officials will have appropriate guidance as they act on these recommendations. There is no guarantee these recommendations will be acted upon without additional public input.
The agricultural advisory committee continues in existence, addressing many other important issues raised by the agricultural community, independent from the winery lawsuit. I hope to report on them at a future date.
– W. William “Rudy” Rudolph