Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 2, 2013

Editorial: Peninsula must untangle zoning maze

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — You don’t kill the golden goose. But if even a golden goose is infringing on someone’s viewshed or treading on a conservation easement, well ... things can get complicated.

Planning officials on Old Mission Peninsula have more than the usual zoning regulations to deal with when they consider projects like the winery envisioned by brothers Todd and Carter Oosterhouse. And even Carter Oosterhouse’s celebrity isn’t enough to cut the red tape.

The brothers Oosterhouse planted vines on a 41-acre site three seasons ago and planned to build a winery this summer in time to process grapes.

But the property - and now the project - has been complicated by an ownership dispute, conservation easements and viewshed restrictions. Township officials last year nixed building on the site because of viewshed issues, township Supervisor Rob Manigold said. The brothers then bought adjoining unrestricted land on Center Road for a tasting room and wine processing.

Just as the township board was to consider that request, the man who sold them the initial property alleged the winery would violate zoning and deed restrictions. The brothers hope to move forward this month.

It’s not like all this dropped out of the sky. Todd Oosterhouse spent more than a year working with Peninsula Township officials to address the zoning, the conservation and deed restrictions and the viewshed issues.

But the growing complexity of rules are making zoning enforcement tougher than ever. Even for TV stars.

For those who don’t recognize the name, Carter Oostehouse, who grew up on Old Mission, hosts home remodeling and design television shows. He 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.

Baldyga commended the brothers for taking on a property rife with legal complications, and said they’re producing excellent grapes. But TV fame or not, following the rules can be tough.

“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.

Walter Brys, co-owner of Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, said some problems have been of the township’s making. He said township officials have 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 guidelines still appear overly complicated, Baldyga said.

“It makes your head spin.”