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Protect the Peninsula Ask to Join Michigan Winery Case

— February 24, 2021

PTP asks to join Peninsula Township as a co-defendant in WOMP’s case.

A federal lawsuit filed in fall 2020 by the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula Association (WOMP) against Peninsula Township alleges its zoning laws limit the wineries in “unfair, burdensome, or even unconstitutional ways,” and cites violations of the First Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and Michigan’s alcohol laws.  The suit states “restrictions imposed by the township’s winery ordinance have cost the wineries hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.”  This month, Protect the Peninsula (PTP), an advocacy group consisting of Old Mission Peninsula residents, has filed a motion in federal court asking to join the lawsuit as a co-defendant.

In January, Judge Paul Maloney of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan denied a preliminary injunction motion that would have provisionally barred Peninsula Township from enforcing zoning regulations on eleven Old Mission Peninsula wineries, keeping them from performing activities including “hosting venues, selling t-shirts, running restaurant or off-site catering operations, and setting their own hours.”   WOMP attorney Joseph Infante responded to the court’s findings, “The court denied [our injunction motion], but the judge gave the parties direction of where he sees the strengths and weaknesses [of the case].  He said that the preemption claims by the wineries have merit, and those are sort of our core claims – dealing with restaurant, catering, hours of operation, entertainment, music, that kind of stuff. So, we were very happy with that language.”

Protect the Peninsula Ask to Join Michigan Winery Case
Photo by Tina Witherspoon on Unsplash

The “preemption claims” refer to township regulations that WOMP claims are preempted, and thus, rendered unenforceable by the Michigan Liquor Control Code, such as the fact that Old Mission wineries are allowed by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) to operate until 2am, but are required under township zoning to close at 9:30pm. Judge Maloney wrote that the court “finds more merit in Plaintiffs’ MLCC preemption arguments than in its allegations that Peninsula Township’s winery regulations are unconstitutional.”  He is urging the parties to pursue mediation and they have until the end of next month to try to do so.

In asking to join the case, Tracy Jane Andrews, Protect the Peninsula’s attorney, said, “[The wineries] have taken the position that the township has no legal authority to regulate liquor license holders.  That the township cannot regulate, for instance, what hour the wineries close in the evening under zoning law, because that is entirely decided by their liquor licenses.  So, I think what’s at issue in this case is not ‘Should we change the zoning ordinance?’  It’s whether we can regulate wineries.  And I think PTP does have a strong interest in maintaining the township’s ability to regulate land uses when they affect neighbors and neighboring land uses.”

Chris Baldyga, president of WOMP and co-founder of Old Mission’s 2 Lads Winery, commented of the pushback from some area residents, “I can appreciate that other people love and believe in the peninsula, and have opposing views.  I just don’t appreciate it that they keep calling the wineries ‘commercial.’  We are agricultural businesses and small family farms.  Small local agriculture is failing, and when you’ve got successful things like apple cideries and wineries that can keep greenspace protected and keep agriculture going, I think they need cheerleaders, not people minimizing them and keeping their success down.  We’re just asking for the rights that are allowed by the Michigan Liquor Control permits, and those are things that wineries almost anywhere should be able to do on farmland.”


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