Seven Hills Community Center | Jane Boursaw Photo
Seven Hills Community Center | Jane Boursaw Photo
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I recently posted a piece about the new Seven Hills Community Center. The piece outlined their “Call to Action” for OMP residents to ask Township Planner Jenn Cram to rescind her letter to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission about Seven Hills’ application for a microbrewery license.

NOTE, Jan. 9, 2024, 4:42 pm: I’ve been notified that Seven Hills has begun the process of amending their special use permit with Peninsula Township.

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Peninsula Township sent me the following info in response to the Seven Hills piece posted in the Gazette. Note that these are the Township’s words, not mine.

• The Findings of Fact signed by the owners of Seven Hills on May 23, 2023, includes a clause under the section titled Approval Conditions that reads “The site shall be developed consistent with the approved plan and with the information contained in the application and packet materials. The applicants shall be subject to all other verbal or written representations and commitments of record for the approval of Special Use Permit #35, Amendment #2. Any changes to the use of the property, MLCC licensing including the small distillery liquor license and associated tasting room shall require the approval of an amendment to Special Use Permit #35.” (signed by Jay Milliken 5/23/23)

• Jay Milliken, one of the owners of Seven Hills, clearly indicated in their special use permit (SUP) hearing that they understood that they would need to come before the planning commission and township board to amend their SUP if they wanted to add beer to their menu or make any other changes to their MLCC license. In his final special use permit hearing, Mr. Milliken indicated that “You cannot serve beer unless you have very specific equipment and square footage for the equipment. That’s never been in the cards for us. We know we can’t do beer; it requires more from our septic and drainage than we have.” (Jay Milliken, May 23, 2023, Peninsula Township Board Special Meeting Minutes)

• Responding to letters from the MLCC is the responsibility of the Planning and Zoning Department. Ms. Cram notifies the officers of the township, who consist of the supervisor, treasurer, and clerk, of her receipt of such a letter and determines independently whether the license request complies with the zoning ordinance and any applicable SUPs. Peninsula Township’s officers were aware of the receipt and response to the letter and did not interfere in Ms. Cram’s reasoned and appropriate application of the township’s zoning ordinance. She is the trained expert in whom the township board has vested such authority, and to interfere would create significant ethical and legal implications. Ms. Cram, like all township staff, must follow the zoning ordinance and contract language agreed to by the planning commission, township board, and special use permit holders. To ignore or neglect this material would expose the township and its taxpayers to significant legal risk. More specifically, governments must carry out the plain language of the law, or, in this case, the SUP, in order to avoid violating the due process rights of other citizens. Failure to do so would open up the township to overwhelming legal action, either by those who oppose the township’s malfeasance or others who wish to ignore required legal processes and procedures.

• Based on the above facts and the lack of any contact from Jay Milliken/Seven Hills regarding the proposed addition of a microbrewery license, it is clear that Peninsula Township cannot support the issuance of a microbrewery license by the MLCC without an amendment to Seven Hills’ SUP. Ignoring the plain language of the SUP would likely constitute a violation of the due process rights of other SUP holders who have followed their SUPs.

• The three officers also did not believe that it would have been appropriate for Ms. Cram to reach out to Seven Hills prior to the issuance of the letter. Seven Hills had not initiated a conversation about the planned change to MLCC licensure with the township, and had the township initiated such a conversation with a business that had not taken the initiative to start a conversation, it likely would have resulted in credible accusations of favoritism or unfair treatment in favor of Seven Hills.

• The officers of the board and individual trustees do not insert themselves into administrative decisions. This is a best practice in government at all levels because administration of the law should not be subject to political interference. Moreover, board discussion of day-to-day administrative decisions would violate the Open Meetings Act.

• Mr. Milliken/Seven Hills has always been able to obtain a Class C tavern license that would allow for on-premise sale of beer, wine, and liquor. Mr. Milliken/Seven Hills decided not to pursue that route early on, instead seeking only a small distillery license. He should certainly be aware of his ability to get a Class C license to sell various alcoholic beverages given his correspondence with the Liquor Control Commission and his operation of a licensed establishment. While this would still require an amendment to the SUP, such an amendment would be procedural and straightforward.

• Peninsula Township does not want to micromanage menu offerings as Seven Hills has asserted, but Seven Hills seeks a microbrewery license, which allows the manufacturing of beer on site. Clearly, there is a health, safety, and welfare concern about scaling this activity appropriately for the site since a Michigan microbrewery license can allow for the production of up to 60,000 barrels of beer per year and the infrastructure at Seven Hills would not support large-scale or even medium-scale beer production. Seven Hills has posted on social media that they do not plan to produce a significant amount of beer, but they have not initiated a conversation with Peninsula Township to define the scope of their proposed microbrewery. While beer service itself poses no philosophical or logistical issues, licenses run with the property and it is important to ensure that on-site brewing is limited in such a way as to limit health, safety, and welfare impacts. A verbal indication of proposed scale is not sufficient to manage these concerns.

• Rescinding the letter of opposition would constitute a violation of the SUP per as noted above. We are happy to take the correspondence received from the public on this matter into consideration for future review of an amendment to the SUP, but public pressure alone does not negate the township’s responsibility to uphold the plain language of the SUP. We believe that it is important that the township follow its own rules and that we honor the mutual commitments that have been previously made in special use permits.

• Process is important, and Mr. Milliken/Seven Hills has neither completed nor initiated the process that both parties agreed to upon the issuance of their SUP on May 23, 2023. We are open to discussing potential paths forward for Seven Hills with them, but this would require that they engage with the township planner/Ms. Cram to begin the process. To date, they have not done so and have ignored her requests to set up a meeting after Mr. Wunsch/the township supervisor followed up on a call with Mr. Milliken with an email recommending that the parties meet to discuss options. It is unfortunate that Mr. Milliken has chosen to smear Ms. Cram on social media with misleading and inaccurate claims rather than calling, emailing, or otherwise attempting to contact her in order to advance their project.

• Despite the public smearing, Ms. Cram, the Director of Planning and Zoning and appointed Zoning Administrator for the township, remains open and willing to meet the Mr. Milliken and the other owners of Seven Hills to go over the process to advance newly expressed desires to expand their business.

-Peninsula Township

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I expect our elected and appointed officials to take the high road. This letter continues down the wrong path. Who is the author of this letter and why the claim that a township official has been smeared. Definition of “smear” is:
    damage the reputation of (someone) by false accusations; slander.

    I have not seen any false accusations. Please author of this letter become a unifying party for township government.

    • I agree – township board members need to be taking the high road. I see this not being done in too many instances. The place for the town board to discuss matters is at a town board meeting, not in social media. If I were on the town board, I would certainly make sure my hands were clean in following township government in practices and procedures, whether in zoning or other areas – before engaging in public debates.

      Thanks goodness this is an election year for the town board!

  2. The township response is inaccurate and has omitted plenty of information. The community of Old Mission deserves to know the full story.

    The township letter/statement put up on the Gazette right now belongs in “opinion”, our side is and always has been factual.

    To use any words stating I/we smeared anyone is blatantly wrong and inappropriate. There appears to be an excessive amount of emotion and reliance on “feelings” in the township office. Government officials should not take things personally.

    Residents and businesses have always had First Amendment rights to be critical of the government. Expressing disagreement with inconsistent interpretations and actions by the township planner or anyone at the township is not considered an attack or “smear”. The facts speak for themselves. We expect fair and consistent treatment from the township board and administration.

    As always, I am available to you and the community for constructive discussions. Looking forward to moving past this but need the record to be straight.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QAlu9tjs6xPBaW3g_rw4gxybW6NXOumG/view?usp=drivesdk

  3. This is the third instance in as many months where an employee of the township took action on her own to make new rules and the township officials took umbrage when she was called out for it. I think everyone is missing the main issue with regard to seven hills which seems to be buttressed by a statement in the town’s response.
    The planner in the first instance decided how she was going to measure the height of.a building. When it became obvious that is not what the town supported she backtracked and the town set up a committee to work this issue through.
    In the second instance she has deemed the crushing of cement on center road as industrial action in an agricultural zone. Of course there is no definition of industrial activity in the ordinance and any one with a bit of cmon sense knows this is not industrial activity no matter how she would like to define it.
    The third instance is with regard to seven hills. Does anyone think with someone’s business at stake and after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in this endeavor that it is right for the township planner to apparently on her own write a letter of opposition without first discussing this with the owner. And more importantly when she acts on behalf of the township in taking a position with a state agency, she doesn’t check it out with the supervisor. His response was he doesn’t micro manage. That is not a proper answer for any township official in a supervisory role over township employee actions this serious. Either he is asleep at the switch or he doesn’t realize the import of this matter. In either case it is not what we expect when it comes to an issue where people’s livelihoods and investments are put in jeopardy.
    Finally with regard to charges of smearing Jenn. Whats wrong with the township people that they want to take legitimate criticism of her actions as a smear. Really?
    As President Truman once said if you can’t take the heat then get out of the kitchen!

  4. The community should also know that these types of MLCC licenses have been issues as recent as in the past year as well as further back with no SUP and no amended SUP to other businesses on the Peninsula in other zoning, like agriculture. We are COMMERCIAL. Why the double standard?

    We were first approved for a tavern, bar and tasting room with no stipulations on licensing. After being approved for over a year and half for our small distiller permit, still with no stipulations against other licenses, the township added verbiage into our amendment 2 weeks before our opening stating we needed to amend our SUP to add other licenses. We bought this property knowing we could hold the these various micro licenses and we have been transparent since day one with the township about what licenses we were seeking. They knew this. IF the ordinance needs to be rewritten for C-1 to ease the townships new interpretation, they need to do so and do it quickly. We will be providing the information they are requesting but we demand fast and fair process to get this done. This is NOT our fault and instead is another example of a poorly written ordinance, new interpretations and unfair enforcement. The township has created their own unneeded issues with these licenses and they should work diligently to fix them.

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