Winery court case could set precedent for Ohio agriculture zoning cases

BERLIN CENTER, Ohio — A court case between the Myrddin Winery and Milton Township may be headed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

A request to consider the case was filed the week of May 10 with the court by Gayle K. Sperry, her son Kristofer Sperry and his wife, Evelyn Sperry, owners and operators of the winery.

In addition, a motion to stay the decision of the Mahoning County Court of Appeals was also filed. If the stay is granted, then the business can remain open. If it is denied, then the business will be forced to close, even with the Supreme Court case pending.

Atty. David Pennington, of the Dublin-based Wright Law Co. who is representing the Sperrys, gave a lot of credit to the township trustees.

“They are being reasonable, very reasonable, by not pressing for the closing,” Pennington said.

Background

According to court records, prior to starting the winery in 2005, the Sperrys contacted the Milton Township zoning inspector about obtaining any necessary permits or meeting any local requirements in starting such a business. They were reportedly told there weren’t any, and operations could begin immediately.

The Myrddin Winery reportedly contains 20 grapevines on it, of which 12 are harvested. Other grapes and grape juices are purchased for use in the production of wine on the premises. What is harvested from the grape vines reportedly makes up 5 percent of what goes into producing wine on the premises.

The problem

Milton Township trustees filed a complaint in 2008, alleging the winery was in violation of a township zoning regulation because the winery was in a residential district. The township asked the court to stop the winery from operating.

Myrddin Winery

The Sperrys filed a request for the court to determine if the winery activities were an agricultural use of the property and if the winery should be considered exempt from the zoning regulation (because it is agriculturally based.)

Court decision. Both the Mahoning County Court and the Court of Appeals said no to both questions. The courts ruled that the winery’s activities of making wine and marketing wine and shelf stable foods were the primary uses and that agriculture was second.

The lower courts ruled the processing and marketing wine is the primary use of the property and wine production using grapes grown on the property is a secondary use, making it legal for local zoning to prohibit a winery.

Pennington said the question for the Ohio Supreme Court is to determine a numeric standard of how much a business must do to be considered agriculture and fall under the exemption.

The Ohio Revised Code (sections 519.02 to 519.25) empowers “any township zoning commission, board of township trustees, or board of zoning appeals to prohibit the use of any land for agricultural purposes or the construction or use of buildings or structures incident to the use for agricultural purposes of the land on which such buildings or structures are located, including buildings or structures that are used primarily for vinting and selling wine and that are located on land any part of which is used for viticulture, and no zoning certificate shall be required for any such building or structure.”

In this case, the Sperrys claim that 5 percent of the grapes used to produce wine comes from their vineyard. That is being perceived by the court as not enough to be considered an agricultural business.

The Sperrys have stated the primary business is bottling and selling wine and not grape cultivation.

Pennington said a numeric amount should not be warranted to be considered agriculture.

“All we are asking is for the statue to be applied as written in the Ohio Revised Code,” said Pennington.

Pennington added this case is just another example of an attack on agriculture zoning.

“This case has a lot of significance, not just for the wine industry but for the agriculture industry as a whole,” he said.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

3 Comments

  1. Blue Heron says:

    Sounds alot like the Blue Heron Nurseries v. Bath Township case.

  2. Wine Drinker says:

    I beg your pardon, Kristy…but the ORC does NOT say what you quoted, exactly. It says these “sections…CONFER NO POWER on any township zoning commission…to prohibit…”

    It does NOT allow the zoning commission to prohibit those activities. It specifically prevents them from doing so.

    It also mentions that simply vinting the wine is sufficient for “agriculture;” growing the grapes is not required at all.

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