Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery | Jane Boursaw Photo
Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery | Jane Boursaw Photo
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(Editor’s Note: Mike Dettmer, Secretary of Protect the Peninsula, responds below to Cindy Warner’s opinion piece posted in the Gazette earlier this month. He says if the “agreed upon settlement” was “logical and workable for all involved,” as Ms. Warner noted in her piece, then why can’t we all see it? He also urges all parties involved to share their desired outcome of the winery lawsuit. Read on for his thoughts. And if you’ve got something to say about the winery lawsuit or anything related to the Old Mission Peninsula, write it up and send it to me, [email protected]. -jb)

Protect the Peninsula (PTP) appreciates the opportunity for productive civil discourse on community interest issues, so we happily acccept the invitation from Cindy Warner and her new group, Take Back the Peninsula (TBTP), to address her assertions about the lawsuit that the wineries filed in October 2020.

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But first, and to make sure the bottom line is not lost, PTP is also accepting Ms. Warner’s offer to confirm that we remain ready to compromise in good faith to end this litigation. The winery owners have been hiding from public discussion what they really want in this litigation, so we invite each winery owner to publicly confirm that they, too, are ready to compromise in good faith to end this litigation.

The wineries have banded together and seem to be unwilling to engage directly with their neighbors in public. They say there was a settlement, but they don’t show it. Since they filed this lawsuit, they have let their lawyers speak for them at Peninsula Township meetings, at the Town Hall that took place at St. Joseph Catholic Church, in the press and in public. They recently had WOMP speak for them through their website.

They have anointed community members like Mr. Santucci and Ms. Warner to plead their case and spread half-truths and misplaced snippets to the public. But the winery owners have been publicly silent for more than three years since this case has been pending. We invite each of them to make public specifically what each really wants to get out of this lawsuit.

To move on from a debate and, instead, into productive discourse, PTP proposes that the winery owners, together with the Township and PTP, all agree to share publicly in Old Mission Gazette what they believe is a reasonable and workable solution.

Each of the 11 winery owners who is truly interested and motivated to settle this lawsuit should confirm that they will provide their own tailored solution for their winery, or a collective proposal that addresses what each winery owner is seeking. The Township should also confirm it is willing to share a proposal publicly. PTP is willing to do so.

We are not suggesting violating any court order, but instead telling this community what we each think is a fair and reasonable outcome. Then everyone in this community and beyond who is interested may understand all the positions and discuss them civilly. Secrecy has been fueling community discord rather than productive compromise. So let’s move into a new phase in the new year and have a constructive, fact-based public discussion.

The next part of this article is PTP’s response to a few of the misleading assertions about PTP and the lawsuit in the “Take Back the Peninsula” rant.

If anyone is to blame for this protracted litigation, it is the winery owners who brought it. For four decades, winery owners, their neighbors, and the Township collaboratively drafted carefully balanced zoning to support wineries and to protect neighbors. But instead of recognizing that this case affects neighbors, including PTP members, as the Township did, the wineries pushed back and misled the Court about PTP’s interests and objectives. Due largely to the wineries’ misleading rhetoric and resistance, it took until July 2022 for the Courts to order that PTP gets a seat at the table because the outcome of this case impacts the residents wo live on this peninsula and share roads and space with wineries.

This lawsuit – and the damages the winery owners are asking their neighbors to pay – is not about “logical business operation” (Ms. Warner’s words, not ours). It is about the lawfulness of zoning ordinances and whether Peninsula Township residents should pay winery owners for added profits they did not earn under that zoning. The Judge is not deciding whether these winery businesses have logical operations. The wineries are asking the Judge to re-write one part of a reciprocal social contract.

Zoning protects the wineries and residents by ensuring that if a hog rendering plant, concentrated chicken-raising facility, race track or junkyard is proposed next door, they have a say about the potential impacts of odors, noise and operation on wine tasting and vineyard tours. Zoning is developed through a public process that PTP, you, and the winery owners all participate in. Now the wineries want our zoning rewritten at the Kalamazoo Federal Courthouse instead of at the Peninsula Township Hall.

Every single winery owner has asked the Judge to issue an order allowing them to operate without any zoning limits on their becoming commercial wedding venues and restaurants, amplifying music, and operating until 2 a.m. Whatever they may be saying privately to Ms. Warner or others about their future business plans, their court filings speak for themselves.

It seems that Ms. Warner has seen the supposed “agreed upon settlement” between the Township Board and the wineries from October 2021. She must have reviewed it in order to conclude that it is “logical and workable for all involved.”

PTP has repeatedly asked to see a copy of that supposed settlement offer, but the wineries have refused to share it. If it is “logical and workable,” then why not share it? Why not publish it right here in Old Mission Gazette next week so we can have civil discourse about something factual instead of something hypothetical? If we could all see it, we might all agree it is “logical and workable” for all involved. But as long as the wineries insist on keeping it secret, we can only speculate about what’s in it.

As for the assertion that the Township agreed to that settlement, that is simply fantasy of an overactive mind. The Township Board only acts legally by public vote or a majority of its members. The Township Board never agreed to the settlement. We understand the former Township attorney agreed to settlement terms, but not the Board. The Board never retracted anything because they never agreed to anything. The Judge agreed there was no done deal, but fined the Township for the delay caused by the former Township attorney’s mishandling of the situation.

While the wineries like to blame PTP for their fantasy deal falling apart, the reality is that PTP never saw it. We believe the Township Board unanimously rejected it because every Township Board member decided it was not a good deal for this Township. Again, if the wineries want to argue that the Township Board members let a great deal slip through their fingers, then show us the settlement offer.

There is nothing that prevents wineries and other businesses from investing in their operations. As for whether wineries need zoning changes to become profitable rather than hobby businesses, as suggested in Ms. Warner’s opinion piece, it is notable that the wineries are not arguing in Court that they are not profitable. We suspect most are profitable, which is why they are not arguing the contrary. What they have argued to the Court is they could be more profitable if they could have weddings and large events.

For example, they are telling the Court that zoning caused them to lose $74 million in additional profits over five years just from not being allowed to host large events and weddings. That comes to $1,349,290 per winery per year in profits. Just how many weddings and large events are they planning to host to reach that level of profits under these zoning changes they want?

While we have no idea whether Brys Estate is a profitable business or hobby business, we agree that it is unquestionably an exceptional agricultural enterprise. Brys offers impressive vineyards and outstanding facilities to appreciate them. Brys is a great example of one winery that built their business under the existing zoning rules. It started in 2004 as a Farm Processing Facility, then converted to a Winery Chateau in 2011 after it was well established. Then Brys asked permission three more times to modify their winery facilities, and each time the Township granted it.

Brys also added non-winery facilities. Brys has no land in PDR, but they maintain substantial acreage in active agriculture. Rather than proving that the zoning ordinance is broken, this is proof that the zoning ordinance has worked for decades to meet the reasonable business needs of wineries.

“Jazz at Sunset” is another great example that shows the Township and zoning ordinance are responsive to winery owner requests to support their business model. Chateau Chantal’s entertainment program has been around for decades and is enshrined in the ordinance. The zoning ordinance lets wineries sell their wine – by the bottle or glass – late into the night and entertain people when they come to drink or buy wine. That’s logical and reasonable, and it helps these wineries be successful, even though it might be annoying to some neighbors. In 2020, the winery owners decided it’s not enough anymore, and they demanded the right to host weddings and become restaurants and event venues. That’s not logical nor reasonable.

Back to the top, PTP joins Ms. Warner and TBTP in urging all parties to compromise in good faith and end this litigation. Let’s start with each litigant agreeing to participate in a public discussion about their desired outcome. The wineries (collectively or individually) and Township should join PTP in committing to share our position in Old Mission Gazette about what they feel is a fair and reasonable outcome. Then they can all be published and discussed by everyone who is interested. (Editor’s Note: Send all opinion pieces, articles and position pieces to [email protected]. -jb)

Again, to be clear, we’re not suggesting anyone release letters that were sealed by the Court at the wineries’ request in September. Let’s see something fresh in each party’s own words.

PTP is ready to turn the page and get on with it. Peninsula Township? Winery owners? Will you join us? Will you, Ms. Warner and TBTP, personally encourage all the winery owners you know to participate in moving this from unproductive debate into productive public discussion?

-Michael Dettmer, Secretary, Protect the Peninsula

Also Read…

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 and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, 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 I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our 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 OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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1 COMMENT

  1. Mr. Dettmer, first and foremost, the intent of my “rant” as you call it, was precisely as you stated herein, to get you/PTP and the Township to do exactly this…..”compromise in good faith to end this litigation”. I am heartened that my intent was accomplished. Let me remind you though, that the operative word herein is “compromise”. As a litigator for decades, you clearly understand that in order for two sides to conclude on a settlement agreement, the initial proposal by either party is likely never achieved in totality. I do wonder what cases you have tried whereby you have entered mediation with an agreement that is the “least” you would accept versus the most beneficial ideation of what you would like to achieve. You negotiate downward from there, correct? And rarely do you ever get the most beneficial idea of a panacea that you hoped for correct? Then I find it curious that you would hold out any agreement by the wineries as all they would accept, versus a starting point for compromise. The requested zoning changes you posted herein were just that, a panacea of what would be ideal for the wineries. Do you really think they were not going to negotiate and compromise from there? I find that doubtful. I also find the continuing publication of the winery “demands” herein misleading and a continued attempt to spread fear, doubt and uncertainty within our neighbors. Have you spoken to each of the 11 winery owners and asked them if what you published herein is what they want? If not, why not? If you have not, then why did you publish their “demands” herein as if they are either current or valid? To spread more misinformation?

    To address your direct assertions, I have not ever read the settlement agreement (yes there was one), but what I know directly is that it was drafted by the body that represents me as a taxpayer in Peninsula Township, and that is the Township Supervisor and Township Attorney. They could not have drafted an agreement in a vacuum, they drafted it in collaboration with the other side, the wineries. Both parties agreed to the terms and conditions as drafted at the time. That I do know to be fact. However, upon pressure from PTP during the infamous St. Joe’s meeting, the agreement was voted down by the Township Board, namely because the Trustees felt immense pressure by your organization. You can state the that township attorney mishandled the settlement, and likely did, as sanctioned by the judge, however that agreement was not drafted without the Township and wineries coming to the table. So yes, it was considered to be a logical agreement to end this at that time by the people that represent the citizens of Peninsula Township, which would be our elected township officials. Sadly, your pressure at that meeting made our Township Board cave into your threats and demands and here we are.

    Regarding the zoning in the township that you reference, it is governed today by a Master Plan that is dated 2011. Who would consider a document that is 12 years old to represent the current interests of its citizens? Do you realize that the population of our bucolic OMP has increased by nearly 700 people since that Master Plan was written? And since only 18% of the population on OMP is estimated to be under 18 years old, it is fair to assume that we may be dealing with the traffic of these new residents and their service providers, not the wineries. Has PTP ever conducted traffic studies to see when the traffic is a problem on OMP? If not, why not?

    Let me address three other issues that are on my mind from your rant. Firstly, I want to make it perfectly clear that you, and the Protect the Peninsula organization DO NOT represent me as a taxpayer and resident of OMP. Your website states on your home page that you PROTECT…”we defend the rights and interests of the Peninsula residents, landowners, and businesses through litigation and referendum when needed’. We have a democracy in the United States that includes electing officials to represent our interests, and other than one member of your Board of Directors, I have yet to see in my 23 years as a resident, any of your BoD or members run for public office to represent me and my interests. Until you take the oath of office to be a public servant and protect ALL interests of ALL residents of OMP, you are misleading the public with your assertions of purpose and mission. Secondly, since you call out all of the secrecy of documents, settlement, etc in your rant, I am asking you to please publish the complete membership of Protect the Peninsula. Since you state you represent the interest of our residents, it would be useful to know who thinks they are representing me, sans a few retired attorneys who can litigate free of charge. Lastly, let me state that one of the two attorneys representing PTP who filed the intervening petition and has represented you as an organization is a Grand Traverse County Commissioner. The fact that TJ Andrews has taken an oath of office to represent ALL of District 7, which includes Peninsula 1 and Peninsula 2 regions is a complete conflict of interest in my estimation. As a county commissioner, she represents ALL of our interests, not her own, or those of an antagonist organization called PTP that she belongs to. The very fact that she is your/PTP’s legal counsel further brings into question your organization’s ability to operate with complete integrity, with a willingness to compromise.

    For now I will go back to the top…..and the intent…..to stop this nonsense and come to the table and negotiate a settlement. Now. As a concerned citizen, I will help in any way I can, and I would ask you to do the same.

    Happy Holidays.

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