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.
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