Centerville Planning Commission should exercise care when considering proposed Amoritas / Under Canvas resort

Photo courtesy of Under Canvas website

By Nicole Coonradt

Op-ed to the Sun

The Centerville Township Planning Commission will meet on Dec. 4, in the upper level of their Township Hall at 6:30 pm. Although that meeting is not yet the public hearing on the issue, on the agenda is the Amoritas Vineyards/Under Canvas Proposal for a commercial resort featuring 75 fixed platforms for tents, each of which will have its own plumbing with toilet and shower (water heated by individual propane tanks), and wood-burning stove. These and related infrastructure including a new drive with an estimated 100-car parking lot and several other buildings, if approved, would be on the Amoritas Vineyard’s property located on Amore Road. Click here to view the site plan applications.

The land in question is the property where the winery of the same name grows the grapes from which they make their wine, which is sold at the Amoritas Vineyards Tasting Room on Duck Lake Rd/M-204, around the county, and elsewhere. The land is zoned agricultural and has a 2013 document titled Affidavit Attesting that Qualified Agricultural Property Shall Remain Qualified Agricultural Property. Moreover, the affidavit states that “100%” of the property is “Currently and Will Remain Qualified Agricultural Property.” Local residents are wondering how Amoritas can expect to build a commercial resort on said property. Click here to view Centerville Township’s Ordinances and Plans.

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has already determined that by definition, the proposed project is not camping, but a resort (due to the individual plumbing for each unit). Furthermore, the proposal wants to have the township sign off on a document they created titled, “RESOLUTION ESTABLISHING COMMERCIAL REDEVELOPMENT AREA”—a document that apparently would be legally binding. Given the affidavit—as well as the fact that the property has not previously been developed—one wonders how it is possible to have it become “commercial” or “re-developed.” View the EGLE document here.

Another reason for the proposed “Resolution” would be so that alcohol can be sold and served at the commercial resort Under Canvas wants to run at the vineyard. Perhaps most relevant is that under Section C. “Limits of These Provisions” (p. 61), item 4. of the April 2023 Zoning Ordinance, it reads:

Agricultural operations whose gross revenues are solely or primarily derived from alcoholic products are not included under these provisions. (“provisions” being the things what would make Agricultural Tourism possible)

Furthermore, the Zoning Ordinance defines “Winery” as “A state-licensed facility where fruit production is maintained; juice is processed into wine; and sold at wholesale or retail to the public with or without the use of a wine tasting facility.” At the Amoritas Vineyards website listed as a “Winery,” the lead page reads: “From the Heart of Lake Leelanau, Amoritas Vineyards’ wines are made from grapes planted, nurtured, and harvested by hand on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula” and goes on to give extensive information about the tasting room, their wine clubs, all the wines they sell, etc.

Following the above cited term “Winery” and its definition in the Zoning Ordinance is the term “Working Farm,” which the Amoritas Vineyards/Under Canvas proposal goes to great lengths to quote and attempts to establish, even providing sales information for grapes. Yet, no such detail or documentation is provided for the sale of alcoholic products that would appear to be the primary revenue of the business as a winery.

Regardless, were it possible, this sort of commercial resort established by a resolution to develop land sworn by affidavit to be 100% agricultural land in perpetuity, would set a risky precedent in an area already struggling to honor Zoning Ordinances to “preserve open space and farmland” and “maintain our township’s agricultural heritage and rural character” as part of the established vision for the future of the whole county—which is the Leelanau Peninsula.

Given the recent onslaught of similar commercial proposals—the yet unresolved situation with Leelanau Pines to name just one—the county townships on the Leelanau Peninsula will need to be prepared for more of the same with additional outside businesses wishing to partner with local landowners for commercial development of agricultural land. I suspect that when the current Master Plan and other documents were drafted, debated, and approved, few involved in those processes could have imaged the near future and the magnitude of what the county would face.

This is not to vilify every attempt of anyone trying to discover creative ways to make a living on our little slice of paradise, but I think it is important for all of us who hold this place dear to consider how making exceptions for outside entities—some with backing into the billions, who seem to only want to make more money—might impact the future of this place.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are further issues to consider ranging from the practical, if singularly problematic, issue of affordable housing for service industry workers to the more dire consideration of conservation and ecology when we consider the importance of protecting everything about this area that makes people wish to come here in the first place. We are already bursting at the seams in terms of tourism and there are serious repercussions from more that need to be taken into careful consideration. Does anyone want the Leelanau Peninsula to become another Pigeon Forge?