(Editor’s Note: At their Sept. 13, 2022 meeting, the Township Board held a public hearing on Family Orchards, LLC’s rquest for a waiver from the moratorium adopted by the Township Board on Jan. 3, 2022 and extended through January 2023, which imposes a suspension on any special use permit applications relating to Agricultural District properties while the Board works through changes to the Ordinance.
Family Orchards, LLC recently purchased the property at 15259 Smokey Hollow Road, previously owned by Dan Fouch. They wish to pursue a winery on the property. In a letter to the Township Board dated July 22, 2022, Dr. Walter Knysz, III, Member and Manager of Family Orchards, LLC, stated, “The waiver request is made on the grounds that, as applied to me, the Ordinance violates state law, deprives me of my due process and equal protection rights under federal law, and, therefore, is not valid.”
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At the Sept. 13 meeting, Township Attorney Bill Fahey of Fahey, Schultz, Burzych & Rhodes, stated that because the Board has been drafting a new ordinance and will be holding a public hearing on that ordinance at their Oct. 11 meeting, it made no sense to grant this waiver as it could be obsolete within a matter of weeks if the new ordinance is adopted.
In a letter to the Township Board dated Sept. 7, 2022, the applicants’ attorney, Andrew J. Blodgett of Parker Harvey Law Firm, stated, “The new proposed ordinance proposes to eliminate the land use category for which my client requested the waiver in the first place. An elimination of the desired land use would cause immediate and irreparable harm for Family Orchards, LLC.”
Read all the correspondence related to this matter in the Sept. 13 board packet here, and read on for Lou Santucci’s opinion piece on the matter… -jb)
While the Peninsula Township office seems an unlikely location for a casino, the Board’s action at Monday’s September meeting is gambling with our money in yet another ill-advised attempt to change the rules for one winery applicant. At the same time, they moved to push through a proposed ordinance change that will adversely impact folks, and especially farmers, who own tracts of land of 50 or more acres, but less than 80.
Their action will most certainly invite more lawsuits, which in turn, will reward the Township attorneys with a big jackpot payout. How did this roll of the dice come about?
One owner had come before the Board to seek a waiver of the illegally enacted moratorium so he could move forward with his chateau special use permit (SUP) on land he had purchased from the Fouch family. The Board did not grant his request, thus inviting a lawsuit by this applicant or others who had also sought to submit SUPs to the Township planner, who refused to accept them, arguing that there was a moratorium in place. This was despite the fact that the moratorium was not only illegal, but a petition to have the issue put on the ballot stayed the enforcement of the second moratorium for 30 days.
So given the fact that the Township attorney recognized the illegality of both moratoriums, he drafted a new resolution to redo the illegal moratoriums, which the croupiers of the Board promptly passed, again perhaps illegally in part because one of the resolutions appears not to have been seconded.
I realize all this is confusing, but the bottom line is that with both moratoriums being illegally passed, the current ordinances are and were still in effect. So, refusing to accept an SUP was not legally justified, thus inviting lawsuits by those – and there are at least three – who tried to submit them.
Folks, if those lawsuits are filed, you can see legal fees in excess of the $107,000 spent last month and probably in the coming months while the winery lawsuit continues. While some may not care and even cheer the Board on to gamble with our money, I think wiser heads should prevail here. The Board should call a special meeting and grant the applicant’s request. And further, the Board should invite the others to resubmit their SUP requests. To not do so could lead to a big payout for the attorneys, if not the applicants, if they succeed in a lawsuit. I for one don’t want to see that.
Finally, on the other matter that could also lead to more lawsuits, the Board has set a public hearing for October on the rewrite of the winery ordinance. This proposed ordinance will effectively mean no one will invest money in a winery or other farm processing facility, because it will be economically impossible to operate it. Going from a 50-acre minimum to an 80-acre minimum for a large facility takes away the economic value of a farmer’s property if he owns less than 80 acres.
Based on past drafts, other provisions of the yet unseen proposal further discourage opening a winery. Silly restrictions on things like limiting outside seating to 50 people with no basis or analysis on how that protects the health, welfare and safety of the Peninsula is just further grounds for lawsuits.
The argument has been put forward that this new proposal will give parity to the farmers with what the wineries have. This is a red herring. It will give parity by making farmers unable to economically use their land just as a potential investor in the land for a winery. That is all it does.
The farmers had asked for parity with the current ordinance that wineries already operate under, not a new ordinance that severely restricts what can be done with your farm processing facility. If enacted, this ordinance does nothing for the farmer, contrary to the false statements by members of the Township Board and Protect the Peninsula (PTP).
I hope a number of farmers, real or otherwise, will show up at the meeting to voice their opposition to this ill thought out proposal. And don’t be fooled that this proposal was put forward by the so called Citizens’ Agricultural Committee. The farmers on that committee opposed many of the ideas. The other non-farmer representatives, 50 percent of whom are from PTP, had one goal in mind: stop further wineries from coming to the Peninsula.
You may agree with their goals, but at the same time, they are actually hurting the farmers. It’s time for the Board to enroll in Gamblers Anonymous and stop gambling with our money.