Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 26, 2013

Township regulations stall Oosterhouse winery

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Neither fame nor fortune helped TV personality Carter Oosterhouse and his brother slice through legal and zoning entanglements that confront would-be winemakers on Old Mission Peninsula.

Todd and Carter Oosterhouse planted vines on Old Mission Peninsula three seasons ago and planned to build their winery this summer in time to process grapes in the fall. Todd Oosterhouse also spent a year-plus working with Peninsula Township officials to address numerous zoning and conservation deed restrictions on the property, only to see plans corked by a last-minute legal challenge.

”We’re hoping now to get approval in May ... but we have contingency plans to take care of the grapes if we need to,” Todd Oosterhouse said.

The brothers expect their winery and vineyards to occupy 51 acres on Center Road south of Nelson Road, property complicated by an ownership dispute, conservation easements, and view-shed restrictions on 41 of those acres.

Township officials last year nixed building sites on the 41 acres because a winery would violate a protected view-shed, Supervisor Rob Manigold said.

That decision forced the Oosterhouses to buy adjoining unrestricted land on Center Road for a tasting room and wine processing. The day before the township board considered that request an attorney who represents Dave Edmondson — the man who sold the 41-acre, deed-protected land to the Oosterhouses — alleged the winery would violate zoning and deed restrictions.

Edmondson also contended the Oosterhouse brothers needed his permission to establish the winery because they bought the property on a land contract.

Edmondson could not be reached for comment and his attorney did not return messages.

Peninsula Township attorney Bryan Graham recently dismissed the zoning challenge, but the township won’t act until Oosterhouse and Edmondson resolve the ownership issue, Manigold said.

Todd Oosterhouse said he’s working it out with Edmondson and hopes to have the matter resolved soon.

The brothers grew up on the peninsula and said they received both advice and support from the area’s established vintners.

”I hope they can get it resolved because they would definitely be an asset to the Old Mission wineries,” said Walter Brys, co-owner of Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery. “They are thorough and willing to take a lot of time to do a really good job.”

Carter Oosterhouse, whos hosts home remodeling and design television shows, will give Old Mission its first celebrity-owned winery and help broaden the region’s market, said Chris Baldyga, co-owner of 2 Lads Winery. He commends the brothers for taking on a property rife with legally complications, and said the two are producing excellent grapes.

Baldyga believes vineyards and wineries are the future of agriculture on Old Mission Peninsula -- for decades known for its cherry and other fruit orchards -- but he said township rules don’t make it easy on prospective vintners.

”Dealing with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Homeland Security and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission is a breeze compared to dealing with the township planning commission,” Baldyga said.

Brys contends township officials so frequently manipulated zoning rules that winery application requirements are ill-defined.

“It sure has been cobbled up over the last 20 to 25 years or so,” Brys said. “It would be really good if they could just come up with a solid planning tool for wine guys.”

The township is working on a new ordinance, but after a promising start, guidelines still appear overly complicated, Baldyga said.

“It makes your head spin,” he said.