"Draft" Cocktails on Tap at Old Mission Distilling; Seven Hills Community Center | Jane Boursaw Photo
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The owners of the Seven Hills Community Center are seeking community support for an issue involving the serving of beer at their establishment that opened in June of last year.

Located at 13795 Seven Hills Road, just north of Devil’s Dive Road, the facility includes Mission Proper, a coffee shop/cafe, grab-and-go cooler and mercantile; and Old Mission Distilling, a cocktail lounge with indoor seating and an outdoor patio.

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Jay Milliken, one of the owners of Seven Hills, says they’ve obtained the necessary special use permits to operate a tavern, bar and tasting room. “We already hold a small distiller and wine making license,” he notes. “We know and operate within the township ordinance and have oversight of attorneys. We should be allowed to apply for a beer license.”

However, he says the Township’s Director of Planning and Zoning, Jenn Cram, submitted a letter to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission opposing Seven Hills’ microbrewer license application. Milliken feels that Cram is “attempting to disrupt our operations within the existing ordinance and our already approved Special Use Permit.” He says this was done without the knowledge of the township supervisor and some of the township trustees.

Whisky from Old Mission Distilling; Seven Hills Community Center | Jane Boursaw Photo
Whisky at Old Mission Distilling; Seven Hills Community Center | Jane Boursaw Photo

In a letter to Township Supervisor Isaiah Wunsch, township resident James Grove outlined several questions about the issue. He writes:

  • When, if ever, did the board meet to discuss the State permit sought by Seven Hills, and was her letter the result of board-authorized action?
  • Did the Board consider and fully evaluate the positive factors of Seven Hills offering lower alcohol products to the driving public that already frequent the distilling tasting room?
  • From which section in the Peninsula Township Zoning Ordinance (“Ordinance”) does the Township derive authority to regulate the type of alcohol that can be served under a license issued by the State of Michigan (in other words, once approved for restaurant and tavern use, why would a local business need approval from the Township at all)?
  • Ms. Cram’s letter states that the ‘approval of that Special Use Permit required that several standards be met under Section 8.1.3 of the Ordinance and is very specific due to on-site septic system capacity issues, limited parking, and adjacency to residential uses.’

Read Grove’s full letter here, in which he questions the standards outlined in Cram’s letter.

In a letter to the Old Mission Peninsula community sent to Old Mission Gazette, Milliken writes that he is seeking a call to action from the community to help them pass this hurdle with the township.

“In our belief in the power of community and its voice, we are facing challenges with the township that demand your assistance,” he writes to OMP residents. “We hold the legitimate right to apply for and secure a microbrewer beer license from the state of Michigan. What gives the township the right to control what a tavern/bar/tasting room serves on their menu? Especially one that is already approved, licensed and operating on commercially zoned property?”

He adds, “What gives an employee (not a board member, not the supervisor, not a resident) of the township the right to act on behalf of the whole community with no guardrails or approvals and oppose a local business’ right to operate within the ordinance and existing special use permit? When do we expect our planner to fulfill their role in implementing our master plan and revising our zoning ordinance, instead of intervening in permitted, licensed local business affairs?”

Milliken is asking residents to write letters to the Township expressing support for the Seven Hills Community Center and Old Mission Distilling.

“Share your positive experiences and thoughts on the value we bring to our community. Let’s join forces to communicate to the township that we deserve the opportunity to thrive! Please call for the township planner, Jenn Cram, to rescind the letter of opposition filed with the MLCC and allow us to continue with our application for our micro brewer license which is allowed under the current township ordinance, current commercial zoning and existing, approved Special Use Permit.”

For more information, contact Jay Milliken at (310) 367-0276 or email [email protected]. If you have questions for the Township Planner, contact Jenn Cram at (231) 223-7314 or email [email protected].

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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

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Jane, saw this on Nextdoor…
    Peninsula Township Response to Seven Hills
    Updated automatically every 5 minutes
    Page of
    PENINSULA TOWNSHIP
    13235 Center Road, Traverse City MI 49686
    Ph. 231.223.7323 Fax: 231.223.7117
    http://www.peninsulatownship.com
    ISAIAH S. WUNSCH REBECCA CHOWN MARGARET ACHORN
    SUPERVISOR CLERK TREASURER
    W. WILLIAM RUDOLPH DAVID K. SANGER MAURA A. SANDERS ARMEN SHANAFELT
    TRUSTEE TRUSTEE TRUSTEE TRUSTEE
    January 4, 2024
    Dear Peninsula Township Residents,
    I am writing to respond to the accusations and call to action against Peninsula Township and Planning and Zoning Director Jenn Cram regarding Ms. Cram’s decision to recommend denial of Seven Hill’s request to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, or MLCC, for a microbrewery license.
    After reviewing Special Use Permit (SUP) #35, Amendment #2, as attested and acknowledged between Seven Hills and Peninsula Township, entered into on May 23, 2023, it is evident that township support of a new microbrewery license would require an amendment to SUP #35 and that Ms. Cram’s letter was consistent with this unambiguous language.
    Here are the facts that I hope residents who are interested in this issue will consider:
    Seven Hills currently operates under a micro-distillery license whose terms and scope are defined within its May 23, 2023-approved SUP. A micro-distillery license differs from a Class C or Resort liquor license in that it applies to the manufacturing, production, and sale of alcohol and limits the holder to the sale of distilled spirits. Similar licenses are available for winemakers and breweries—they too have the same manufacturing and production components. Some municipalities specifically zone these uses for industrial districts or otherwise create special land uses to deal with the unique nature of on-premise sales combined with manufacturing and processing.
    Unlike those licenses, the Class C or Resort license operates just like the typical tavern or bar where proprietors can sell various types of beer, wine, and spirits with no production and manufacturing occurring onsite. Seven Hills didn’t seek a Class C license, the license that would allow it to serve beer in the commercial zoning district. Instead, it seeks an additional license for the production and sale of beer. This requires additional permitting, given the expansive manufacturing and production aspects that could become part of Seven Hills’ otherwise commercially-approved use. Mr. Milliken agreed with this fact just last May. Specifically, in his final SUP hearing, Mr. Milliken said, “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, Special Township Board Meeting Minutes)
    The legally binding findings of fact signed by the owners of Seven Hills on May 23, 2023, include 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 [or] MLCC licensing[,] including the small distillery liquor license and associated tasting room[,] shall require the approval of an amendment to Special Use Permit #35.”
    Seven Hills has made no request for the required amendment to the SUP. Therefore, the planner has made no determination relative to options for the modification of the SUP that would comply with the current zoning ordinance.
    Likewise, the Peninsula Township Board has not held any deliberations or made any decisions about Seven Hills because Seven Hills has made no request for amendment. Any board discussion or decision relating to this matter must be initiated by Seven Hills, follow a well-defined process, and occur in a public board meeting that all interested parties may participate in.
    While Peninsula Township appreciates the support that has been shown for approval of a micro-brewery license for Seven Hills, Ms. Cram cannot proceed with an affirmative recommendation to the MLCC until the owners of Seven Hills have complied with the terms they agreed to on May 23, 2023, and the amendment to their SUP has made its way through an amendment process that complies with the township’s zoning ordinance.
    If Mr. Milliken simply wants to sell beer, all he needs to do is obtain a Class C tavern license and then amend his SUP as he agreed to. See the “Signed Finding of Fact and Conditions for SUP #35, Amendment #2,” specifically condition 19, at the end of this document. This option, which would allow for the on-premise sale of beer, wine, and liquor, has always been available to him, but he apparently decided not to pursue that route early on and instead applied for a small distillery license. To reiterate, the license he currently holds does not allow him to sell beer. He either has to seek additional zoning approval or he can obtain a different license from MLCC that conforms to the township’s current zoning regulations. These options remain available to him.
    MLCC inquiry letters ask for confirmation from the local township as to whether or not local ordinances are satisfied for the identified location and type of liquor license being sought. Explicitly, the inquiry recognizes that state liquor licensing does not preempt local ordinances. This is a fact in every township in the state of Michigan.
    Responding to these 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, 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.
    The township’s objection, as transmitted by Ms. Cram, does not mean that Ms. Cram, other staff, or the officials of the township board are opposed to adding beer to the menu at Seven Hills. However, Ms. Cram’s letter to the MLCC focused not on the sale of beer but on the fact that the license Mr. Milliken sought would allow him to manufacture beer as well as sell it on the premises. The Seven Hills establishment lies within the township’s commercial zoning district, and extensive manufacturing is an industrial use that is not allowed in this district. The preferred approach to this expanding use is amending the zoning ordinance.
    Mr. Milliken was advised at the time he obtained his special use permit approval on May 23, 2023, that additional liquor license types would require additional administrative or board decisions. Mr. Milliken has not initiated this process, let alone completed it. The township hasn’t said no to him because he hasn’t come to the township to ask to sell manufacture or sell beer. In fact, at this same special township board meeting, Mr. Milliken acknowledged that he was only pursuing a small distillery license. Instead of contacting the township to work through additional processes given his acknowledgment seven months ago of desiring a limited commercial establishment, he resorted to unprofessional and inaccurate attacks on the township planner.
    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.
    Process is important, and 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 to begin the process. To date, they have not done so and have ignored her requests to set up a meeting.
    It is my belief that those who review the relevant documentation below will agree with Ms. Cram’s conclusion that the addition or modification of MLCC licensing at Seven Hills requires a modification to the Seven Hills’ SUP. Again, Mr. Milliken has not sought to discuss this matter with the township planner as of this date despite Ms. Cram providing an opportunity via email to meet and discuss next steps on expanded liquor service at Seven Hills.
    It is disheartening to see a township resident ignore required agreements and processes and instead appeal to public sentiment to discredit the township and staff. It is entirely appropriate to debate the process that is necessary to ask for or amend a special use permit, but Mr. Milliken has mischaracterized the situation, and that isn’t fair to anyone.
    The Peninsula Township Board and staff want to work with all our residents, but residents have to be willing to work with the township as well. In this brand new year, we call upon our fellow residents to work with us with integrity and in good faith.
    We wish each of you a happy new year.
    Sincerely,
    Supervisor Isaiah Wunsch
    Additional resources available in the 1/9/23 Township Board packet:
    Signed Finding of Fact and Conditions for SUP #35, Amendment #2
    Resolution for SUP #35, Amendment #2
    Minutes from Township Board Meeting May 23, 2023
    Letter From MLCC dated November 6, 2023
    Peninsula Township Response to MLCC Letter dated November 21, 2023
    Email correspondence between Jay Milliken and Jenn Cram dated December 14 and 15, 2023
    Email from Jay Milliken to Supervisor Isaiah Wunsch dated December 12, 2023
    Correspondence beginning December 27, 2023 and received by 4:00 p.m. on January 4, 2024

  2. Due to inaccurate statements by Mr. Santucci and Mr. Milliken, we feel that it is important to set the record straight for our residents. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the Peninsula Township office should you have any questions about the attached

    While we would love to consider the proposed expansion of Mr. Milliken’s business, we are unable to do so until he begins the process that he agreed to on 5/23/23. As of the publication of this document, he has made no efforts to contact or discuss additional licensures at his business with the township planner, and has made no effort to avail himself of the options unambiguously delineated and agreed to by both parties in May of last year.

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vT5mCiU3HyRTZ4F0TUoj7Phf1lutiRiDaoryoqXgCa4Agw3OfpY2Sj-Cf5UTkcij8BoN7j5PxQx6Swe/pub

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