(Editor’s Note: OMP resident Todd Wilson writes on behalf of the newly-organized group, Friends of Old Mission Peninsula, noting that WOMP’s demands “are not pro-farmer, not pro-local agriculture, and certainly do not make for good neighbors to have next door.” Read on for his thoughts. 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)
Since the founding of Peninsula Township, farming has been the backbone of our local community. As Traverse City continues to become an increasingly popular tourist destination, local farmers have had to embrace the shifting economic landscape. The farmers and the community have a long history of working together with the Township to purchase development rights, improve the venues for farmers to market their products, and promote agri-tourism opportunities.
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However, the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula (WOMP) demand something else entirely. They seek to completely bypass the voters’ wishes and years of jointly-crafted winery and local viticulture allowances. Now WOMP wants multiple commercial districts (11+) that sidestep zoning restrictions favored by most residents. (Read more on the FAQ page at the Friends of Old Mission Peninsula website here.)
We should all read the details of WOMP’s demands: No requirement for using local grapes, outdoor amplified music, unrestricted operations from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., more rental rooms, catered events, restaurants, distilleries and retail … the equivalent of winery Disneyland may be the end result. (Read more about the wineries’ demands at Protect the Peninsula’s website here.)
Also, these new business ventures will unfairly compete with existing commercially-zoned businesses on the Old Mission Peninsula that were established the right way — in dialogue with neighbors and elected officials. These are the restaurants, two grocery stores, a brew pub, a hotel, an event center, a coffee shop, a distillery, art galleries, and several B&Bs already present in the area — our welcome neighbors.
In addition to trying to force their business expansion on our township residents, WOMP wants more than $200 million in damages for claimed lost profits. Unfortunately, if WOMP is successful in their lawsuit, virtually all of that expense will be paid by township residents through special assessments and higher taxes. (Note: You can calculate your potential financial exposure here.)
Moreover, although the wineries convinced a judge to keep the details of their calculation of this number secret, it tells us much about what they expect to do with their planned unrestricted growth. (See above and read more here.)
Without resident input through zoning, the demanded expansions will irreversibly transform the Old Mission Peninsula from a quiet rural residential and agricultural community into a winery-dominated strip mall and event center. All these activities would increase trespass, noise, traffic, inebriated drivers and dangerous roadside parking, as well as make roads less safe for pedestrians and farm equipment, degrade preserved viewsheds, and tax already-stressed local parks and infrastructure.
WOMP also wants less required acreage to establish a winery and no requirement for using local grapes. So, expect many more wineries and far less use of locally grown grapes. These demands are not pro-farmer, not pro-local agriculture, and certainly do not make for good neighbors to have next door.
I believe local zoning under the elected township guidance and citizen input can continue to provide resident-supported changes to help maintain generations of agriculture and tourism that promote farming AND the wineries, without the conversion of the Peninsula into a series of new commercial centers and large event venues.
Rather than forcing an expensive federal lawsuit and consuming our township resources, WOMP should release to the public their financial information and projections, continue the debate locally, and forge a future through dialogue with their neighbors and elected officials.
-Todd Wilson, Friends of Old Mission Peninsula
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