(Editor’s Note: John Wunsch writes on the shifting sands surrounding changes to the Township’s ordinance. On Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022 at 7 p.m., the Peninsula Township Board and Planning Commission will hold a joint meeting and public hearing at the Township Hall concerning the adoption of amendments to the Peninsula Township Zoning Ordinance related to Farm Processing Facilities, Winery-Chateaus and a Temporary Moratorium in the A-1 Agricultural District. For more info and to view the draft ordinance amendments, visit the Township website’s home page and meeting agendas/packets page. -jb)
Less than two months ago, the lawsuit by the wineries seemed to be going in their direction, negating the current regulations. But with two recent successful appeals by Protect The Peninsula, it appears the lawsuit may be going in the opposite direction, allowing the Township to keep the existing appropriate guardrails regarding what activities are appropriate at wineries in place.
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Those recent changes in this lawsuit gave the Township the opportunity to slow down, and they took advantage of the opportunity by tabling the early August hearing on the new ordinance proposal.
As someone who has been involved in developing our ordinances for 30 years, I believe it would be best for everyone involved if we allowed the moratorium to stay in place and did not proceed with changes to the winery sections of Peninsula Township’s ordinances at this point in time.
Until the lawsuit is settled, we have no way of knowing what is going to happen. When we don’t know what is going to happen, how can we know if our ordinance needs to be changed, and if so, how can we know if those changes need to be significant or modest? We could end up making changes that are unnecessary.
If the wineries win their lawsuit, there is no doubt the ordinance must change, and very likely significantly. But if they lose this lawsuit, any need for change will most likely be far less, perhaps only increasing the clarity of the original intent of the ordinance.
But it looks like circumstances will force the Township to proceed with a new ordinance ASAP.
Unfortunately, the frustrations of those who want to open new wineries has led them to press the Township with threats of more legal action against the Township. And there is also pressure from other land owners who believe it is unfair to have a moratorium in place until the path ahead becomes clear, when an appropriate new ordinance could be crafted to the degree necessary. As a result, the new Township attorney has recommended the board proceed with creating a new ordinance now.
If the Township Board chooses to follow that advice, the Township will now need to look at how to protect the community from the potential of increased conflicts that a possible victory in court by the wineries could bring. Limitations and new guardrails that might not even be necessary may be on the table, all because of the pressure by those who want to open new wineries immediately and other land owners who believe it is unfair to have a moratorium in place.
I don’t know that anyone else would share my opinion, but I do wish the Township could wait. Why look at possibly dramatic changes to the ordinance when it may not be necessary?
But then, if my wishes were determinate, there would be no lawsuit, or at least there would be a settlement.
Just to be clear, though, I do not think the moratorium should be extended. In fact, its illegality gives uncertainty as to whether anyone economically hurt by actions not taken during its existence will yet sue the Township. This moratorium should not be extended.
Also, the ordinance does nothing but make it economically impossible for anyone owning land to sell it for its maximum value, which would be a winery. No one is going to invest in a winery with these draconian rules if they are adopted. It’s as simple as that. Relying on the PDR program to bail everyone out is not realistic.