Fall Colors on Center Road | Jane Boursaw Photo
Fall Colors on Center Road near the Swaney Road Intersection| Jane Boursaw Photo
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(Editor’s Note: Dennis Arouca and Don Coe have mapped out a plan for a settlement in the ongoing winery lawsuit. Read on for their thoughts. If you’ve got something to say about 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)

The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula (WOMP) and Peninsula Township participated in a court-ordered settlement conference on March 13, 2024. Negotiations are said to be continuing, but if those talks are not successful, a trial will begin on April 29 and is scheduled to run for three weeks.

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Two local leaders with experience in Economic Development and Agriculture — one of whom operated a local winery — submitted the following letter to the Township and WOMP, recommending a roadmap that the parties might follow toward finding a resolution of the dispute that is causing a major rift among Peninsula Township residents and businesses.

A copy of the letter was shared with Old Mission Gazette and is reprinted here. The Gazette invites readers to let us know how they feel about this suggestion – feel free to leave comments in the comments section at the bottom of this story.

Fall Colors on Center Road | Jane Boursaw Photo; Winery Lawsuit
Fall Colors on Center Road | Jane Boursaw Photo

To: Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula, Peninsula Township, and their respective attorneys (see email list at the end of this letter)

RE: Potential Roadmap for Needed Settlement in Wineries Dispute

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Acclaimed common man/social commentator Will Rogers once said, “When you find yourself in a hole, first you stop digging.” The addressees of this letter are the parties in the winery lawsuit — Peninsula Township elected officials, Protect the Peninsula and the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula (WOMP), and their legal representatives. All would do well to take Mr. Rogers’ advice.

After three-plus years of federal court litigation and well over $1 million in attorney fees and creating a divided community, it looks to many like you are in a hole of your own making. The court-ordered settlement conference on March 13, ongoing negotiations and a three-week trial beginning April 29 are good opportunities to lay down the shovels, dust off your dispute resolution skills, look around, and redirect energy toward crafting a settlement. We respectfully suggest the following potential roadmap, which has been in plain view for years.

The playing field for your dispute is well-marked. Wineries — makers of alcoholic beverages — are highly regulated at the federal, state and local level, each with its own “lane,” but also overlapping. In our opinion, progress can be made if we understand and accept those lanes and the overlaps, and respect how they interact.

While some like to shout “overregulation” and “constitutional rights,” our society decided long ago that alcohol and the behaviors it stimulates deserve special, careful and balanced treatment. Wise men and women ignore that at their peril. We can all learn more here.

This letter summarizes major federal, state and local regulations, and suggests “Roadmap Markers” to follow toward a common ground settlement. It is up to you to fill out the details.

Federal Law: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) mandates production and processing requirements, and standards of identity for wine — a wine product guarantee, if you will. TTB enforces safety under the FDA and collection of federal tax under the IRS. TTB issues required federal licenses depending on what is actually being produced.

ROADMAP MARKER: Perhaps it is unnecessary for state law and local zoning to wade anew into these federally regulated areas — simply require a winery to be federally licensed?

State Law: The Michigan Liquor Control Act established the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) to control alcohol product movement, sales and responsible service (including hours of service) through its issue of winery, tasting room and restaurant licenses.

ROADMAP MARKER: Perhaps simply requiring wineries to also be state licensed and follow MLCC regulations can get us all further down the road?

State Law: Michigan Right To Farm Act (MRFA). Agriculture is a business — not a view shed — and owners of agricultural land have state-protected uses by right. Agriculture, as regulated/licensed by the federal and state government, consists of “PPR”:

  • Production (growing grapes)
  • Processing (value-added activities; turning grape juice into wine)
  • Retailing (selling wine through tasting rooms and related activities)

ROADMAP MARKER: Supporting structures for all three components of Agricultural PPR are a use by right. Large scale event/meeting space is not Agriculture PPR.

State Law: The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) exercises the state’s authority to regulate agriculture, including licenses for farms and wineries, and develop “Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices” (GAAMPs). GAAMPs are “written standards providing uniform science-based standards and acceptable management practices.” Following a GAAMP protects against nuisance claims. No GAAMP protects a large scale event center/meeting space.

ROADMAP MARKER. Accept/follow the MDARD and GAAMP structure and practices.

State and Local Law: MDARD Farm Market GAAMP. This GAAMP operates as a guide for value-added agriculture retail activities of Agricultural PPR. It addresses sourcing, buildings, parking and signage, either as a use by right, through special use permits or applicable codes. Special use permits can address significant local health, welfare and safety concerns such as size, hours of operation, traffic and noise.

ROADMAP MARKER: Follow the Farm Market GAAMP for retail activities.

State and Local Law. Michigan Zoning Enabling Act. Local zoning powers exist as a delegation of police power by the state to a local political subdivision. Zoning addresses “health, welfare, safety, neighborhood character, and avoiding nuisance.” Zoning affects property rights and is all about BALANCE.

Agriculture is the largest zoned classification in Peninsula Township, and accordingly, Agriculture PPR is the primary neighborhood character in Peninsula Township’s A-1 district. Property uses that are primarily residential or primarily commercial are not a good fit in “Agriculture PPR” zones. The one existing event center in Peninsula Township — The Peninsula Room next to Jolly Pumpkin — is in a commercial zone.

Good zoning also would account for agriculture/wineries’ need to compete with other Michigan wineries, as well as wineries in other states and countries. A well-intentioned local zoning regulation can become a barrier to a winery’s ability to compete.

At the same time, a well-intentioned absence of local regulation can enable conditions that interfere with other property owners’ rights to quiet enjoyment, etc., and risk damaging the natural beauty and attractive environmental conditions — i.e. “neighborhood character” in zoning language — that local governments can address and which, intelligently shaped, can also help create competitive advantage for a winery.

ROADMAP MARKER: Dialogue/listening/working off the 2011 Master Plan.

State and Local Law: Peninsula Township Master Plan. An important part of the Zoning Enabling Act is authorizing a community’s Master Plan, which is developed through extensive research and community dialogue, and adopted only after public hearing with citizen input. The Master Plan final product is “a policy document that expresses intent, and guides the physical development of a community.” According to the state’s Zoning Enabling Act, “good zoning is based on a plan.”

ROADMAP MARKER: Read the Master Plan (2011) and the draft of the proposed Master Plan Update, with particular focus on History and Land Use sections. The Master Plan clearly identifies the issues underpinning the WOMP dispute and suggests solutions, including the value of clustering activities that are primarily commercial — like farm markets — at a single central location offering consolidated infrastructure benefits. Same for an event center?

Conclusion: Endless litigation and risk of penalties do not serve the interests of any of the stakeholders — Peninsula Township, its residents or its businesses, including its wineries. Only the opposing attorneys are benefitting now. Everyone else loses.

We recommend you lock up the shovels, get in a room, lock the doors, negotiate in good faith, bring in mediators or alternative dispute resolution experts, if needed, and compromise. Perhaps the right balance can emerge from respecting the roles already laid out for federal, state and local regulations.

In any dispute, each party arrives at a resolution conference with a toolkit. It helps if their tool kit includes good listening skills, flexibility, empathy and creativity — all of which are necessary to find the signal, amidst the noise, of litigation.

Carpe diem. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

Sincerely,
Don Coe; former commissioner of MDARD (two terms); former co-owner of Black Star Farms Winery; former president, Leelanau County Economic Development Corporation; former president, Grand Traverse Chamber of Commerce; phone (231) 392-5567.

Dennis Arouca; President, Friends of Old Mission Peninsula; former board member, Grand Traverse Economic Development Corp.; member, Purchase of Development Rights Committee, Peninsula Township; phone (847) 682-6835.

Addressees: Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula, Peninsula Township, and their respective attorneys, including:

[email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

Read all winery lawsuit news and opinions here.

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 Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our 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. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

Bay View Insurance of Traverse City Michigan

1 COMMENT

  1. This is such a well-researched, thoughtful and useful article. I hope all parties will look carefully at this clear and balanced road map to a solution. Indeed, it could be a way forward. It would benefit all parties, including the residents of the Peninsula represented by our Township Board, to stop the financial bleed and begin to heal the rift that has been caused by the lawsuit. Thank you Dennis and Don for this valuable plan for resolution of this difficult conflict.

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