(Editor’s Note: OMP resident David Taft wonders why the wineries involved in the winery lawsuit want to keep their settlement agreement secret (it is currently under a gag order by the Courts, making it inaccessible by FOIA request). 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]. Note that you may only submit opinion pieces once every 30 days. -jb)
In recent months, Old Mission Gazette has published many opinion pieces about the winery lawsuit. Some of these opinion pieces make misleading statements about opponents to the lawsuit, about the Township Board and a settlement that was never agreed to, and about the need for winery profits and for more wineries to consume grapes grown on the Old Mission Peninsula.
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Let’s discuss some facts:
Nothing today stops someone from applying for a Special Use Permit for the right to create a new winery according to our existing Zoning Ordinance. The existing wineries followed this process over the last 50 years and created many successful, profitable wineries on the Old Mission Peninsula. A great agribusiness result for our Peninsula!
The wineries now want to void our zoning ordinance and allow the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to preempt our local zoning and replace it with their rules regarding hours, music, restaurants, etc.
In October, the Township Board, Protect the Peninsula — representing residents of our community — and the wineries submitted settlement letters requested by the Court. The Township Board conducted a meeting where these letters were discussed. I made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to release these letters for all the residents of our community to see.
The wineries’ lawyer immediately requested a Protective Order — a gag order — to prevent the public release of these settlement letters. At the bottom of this story, read my opinion piece about this, which was published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Why do the wineries want to keep their settlement letter secret? Maybe their demands of 2020 haven’t changed, and they want a large money settlement, along with the ability to have restaurants, bars, event centers, amplified music, longer hours, and the right to create more smaller-acreage wineries on agriculturally-zoned land.
You must assume from the traffic and commercial vans that flow into their parking lots that they are profitable. Maybe they would be embarrassed for residents to see that they indeed want even more profits and want to make wine from grapes grown elsewhere to sell on the Peninsula. How is that going to help local grape growers?
I think I know what they want, and — as evidenced by the gag order — they don’t want you to know.
They want more wineries on fewer acres of agriculturally-zoned land. One of the winery owners has publicly stated that he wants to build three more wineries.
They want restaurants, bars, event centers for weddings and other gatherings, longer hours, and amplified music, inside and outside.
They want to make wine from grapes grown anywhere, including outside of the Old Mission Peninsula.
And they want your money — lots of it — according to their 2020 lawsuit.
Tell me — if their demands are met, will our voter-backed Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program survive? More importantly, will you be better off living on this Peninsula if their demands are met?
(Editor’s Note: Below is David’s opinion piece published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle on Oct. 28, 2023. I’m including it here because it is only available to subscribers on the Record-Eagle’s website. -jb)
Residents Need to Understand the Wineries’ Demands
In October 2020, 11 wineries on the Old Mission Peninsula sued the residents of Peninsula Township with outrageous demands to allow commercial event centers, outdoor music venues, restaurants and bars — all on agriculturally-zoned land.
In 2021, the wineries added a demand for $203 million for “lost profits” over the last five years. Three years into this case and millions of dollars in legal fees later, I want to know what is going on in this lawsuit. I expect I’m not the only resident of the Old Mission Peninsula who wants to know.
On August 28, 2023, per court order, a quorum of the Peninsula Township Board met in Grand Rapids. They discussed settlement proposal letters exchanged between the Township, Protect the Peninsula (PTP) and the wineries. On August 31, I requested copies of those three letters under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Although PTP and Peninsula Township said they are willing to release their own letters, the wineries instead filed for a Protective Order to prevent any public disclosure of their settlement position. On Sept. 22, the court issued a gag order, as follows:
“The plaintiffs, the Township and PTP SHALL NOT disclose the settlement letters to anyone other than counsel and the magistrate judge’s chambers.” Violators may be charged with contempt of court.
Why such secrecy? What are the wineries afraid of? Their known lawsuit demands are shameless. They asked the court to vacate the township zoning ordinance as applied to them. They demanded the right to operate full restaurants with bars and catering businesses.
They claimed First Amendment rights to operate event centers for weddings, family reunions, and corporate retreats, with amplified music inside and outside, and entertainment until 2 a.m. While I suspect their secret settlement demands are just as outrageous, I invite them to show us otherwise.
If the wineries succeed, we the residents and taxpayers of the Old Mission Peninsula are likely stuck with the bill, estimated to be an average of $50,000 for every property holder on the Peninsula. Those supposed “lost profits” allegedly result from all the restaurants, bars, event centers and other commercial transactions that zoning never allowed in the agricultural district. How much do the wineries now demand that we pay them in “lost profits”?
Secrecy is the opposite of transparency. We are taxpayers. The Township is made up of our elected representatives, and these are public issues that affect all residents of Peninsula Township.
Residents of Old Mission Peninsula, it’s time to wake up (and you won’t be smelling roses), as we are the ones who will pay the price — financially and in qualify of life — for the wineries’ demands.
-David Taft, Old Mission Peninsula resident
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 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 OMP. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb