After plowing them under and treating them like a pesky weed, Peninsula Township has now weed-whacked the farmers and added others to their swath of destruction in a misguided attempt to whack the wineries after the drubbing the Township received in federal court.
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At last week’s meeting (Tuesday, June 14), the Township Board, with absolutely no discussion, passed another moratorium on the issuance or amendment of special use permits (SUPs) in the agricultural district. In addition, this time it added farm processing facilities – which is a matter of right – to its hit list.
The ag district encompasses the largest swath of land on the Peninsula. This means it’s not just farmers that could be harmed by this action. But before getting into the substance of the issue, it should be noted that the manner that this was passed may be illegal.
The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act requires a notice to be published in a local newspaper – the Traverse City Record-Eagle, in this instance – days before an ordinance can be passed. This was not done in this case.
The proposed ordinance was not shown to the public until around midnight on the Thursday evening before the Tuesday meeting. This is why the Enabling Act requires adequate notice.
When I brought this fact up before the Board took its vote, my remarks were met with indifference. When it came time for a vote, there was not one Board member who commented. It seems strange that with the prospect of calling a halt to SUP requests for six additional months on top of the previous six, there were no comments to be made by the Board members.
One would not be criticized for wondering if discussions on important matters take place out of the purview of citizens. The way this situation rolled out left many of us mystified at the lack of discussion.
Now to the substance. The rationale for enacting a moratorium seems to be that after all these years, they need more time. All along, the Planning Commission and Township Board have said all they wanted to do was give some order to the ordinance. They recognized that changes to the ordinance for major issues could be done later.
As for changes required by the winery lawsuit decision, these could be made in short fashion. It’s just a matter of deleting the offending sections.
A moratorium is an unnecessary burden on farmers and other members of the Old Mission Peninsula community who may have legitimate reasons for seeking an SUP. For example, an SUP is required for a farmer to build a building for storage of agricultural crops (section 6.7.3/12 of the current ordinance). So is the farmer supposed to let the products rot?
If the farmer wants to open a processing facility for apples or cherries, sorry, no dice! Or what about someone who wants to open a bed and breakfast, for example? No cigar for at least six months.
And what if the zoning ordinance has not been modified by the Board’s timing of September, as they have requested? Will the Township seek another six-month moratorium, extending the January 2023 expiration date? Who knows.
For those living in the ag zone, I have no idea how many actions require an SUP. Don’t you think part of the conversation by the Township Planner and Board should have included examples, so the residents of the ag zone could know if they were impacted? That’s just good government.
If the rationale they put forward for the moratorium was truly what they claimed – that they need more time – then the moratorium should apply across every zoning district. But then we know the real reason for the moratorium. And if the farmers get hurt, well, it’s just collateral damage. After all, didn’t the farmers ask for parity? Well, they sure got it.
They are in the same boat as the wineries.The Township Planner stated at the Planning Commission meeting that the moratorium only impacted wineries. She was disabused of that notion when I pointed out to her that it’s not just grapes that get processed, but that any ag product could be swept in.
In addition, this would seem to be a surprising admission that the purpose, as many suspect, was to get at wineries, both existing and proposed.
So, a farmer would be stopped from processing things like cherry concentrate,, dried cherries, apple cider (alcoholic or otherwise), dried apples, jams, jellies, etc. All would be covered. The list is endless.
Are we going to find ourselves on the end of another lawsuit because this moratorium was hastily passed with no real thought to the consequences, and passed in an illegal manner, to boot?! Don’t we deserve better? I certainly think so.
At the next Township Board meeting, the Board should explain all the ramifications of this moratorium. Come out of your dark rooms and shine some light on how this might impact us.
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb