December 2, 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Comstock Charter Township’s statement on Soil Friends Hard Cider Company

Comstock Township is the administering and enforcing agency for the State Construction Code and is a zoned community. The Township has identified certain health, safety and welfare issues regarding the operation at Soil Friends, including zoning and building code violations. Comstock Township personnel have communicated regularly with the owners of Soil Friends regarding these issues. In short, the current enforcement action could not have come as a surprise to Soil Friends and their public media campaign to discredit the township is inaccurate and disheartening. The Township’s recent enforcement action is actually a result of customer complaints regarding the condition of the property.

At the time the township approved a liquor license, it was only for making wine (“small winemaker”) out of fruit that was supposedly grown on the farm itself and too ugly to sell. The “tastes” were to be served out of the shipping container, which was the sole enclosed shelter on the property at the time. The township determined that the small winemaker and tasting was accessory to the farm use and did not require a special use approval for “tasting room and sales”.

Thereafter, without notice to the township and without permission from the township, Soil Friends added an “outdoor service area”; a “manufacturer/direct shipper” license, a “salesperson” license and an “on-premises tasting room permit”. The addition of a tasting room and on-site sales requires a special use permit from the Township and adherence to the parameters of the Ordinance. Nevertheless, this permit was never applied for and uses continued to expand.

Initially, the township was advised that pumpkins would be offered for sale, and farm animal interaction would be provided. Both of these activities are considered to be an agricultural use. The following uses to which the property has been put recently are not considered agricultural uses:

Food and beverage service;
Photo events;
5K run;
Live music;
Outdoor service of food and/or alcohol;
Building rentals;
Special Events;
Manufacture of hard cider/beer;

Distribution of hard cider/beer.

In order to qualify as a FARM MARKET according to the State of Michigan, at least 50% of the items offered for sale on the farm must be grown on the farm. Presently, the sale of pumpkins and other items grown on the farm are clearly less than 50% of the overall retail sales. There are no fruit trees on the farm, so the ingredients for the wine/beer are imported, as are the Christmas Trees, wreaths, and many of the other items offered for sale on the property. Soil Friends does not qualify as a farm market according to the State of Michigan.

The building was constructed in 2019, without building permits. According to Section 10 (8) of the State Construction Code, “a building permit is not required for a building incidental to the use for agricultural purposes of the land on which the building is located if the building is not used in the business of retail trade.” As soon as Soil Friends invites customers into the building and/or uses it for other than a strictly agricultural purpose, the building code requires a building permit, supported by sealed plans, inspections and safety standards, such as ingress/egress, restrooms and the like.

Soil Friends has known of this situation and hired an architect for plans; however, it continues to use an un-inspected and unsafe building for uses such as manufacturing of hard cider; a “tasting room”; food service; retail sales; and live music. The court order permits the building to be used for agricultural purposes only, which is what it was built for. Manufacturing, food sales, live music; tasting room and any other activity which involves customers inside of the building are not permitted.

As the Martins have been told many times, the Township requires zoning approval and adherence to conditions for all new uses to which a property may be put. This allows the township to consider issues such as parking, safety, adherence to separation of uses and a determination as to whether uses are permitted in the zoning district. Soil Friends has been advised of this continually since May of 2019. Soil Friends has not applied for or obtained Township permission for a brewery, food sales or the manufacture and distribution of hard cider. More than once, the Township has offered guidance and assistance through the necessary approval process. This offer of help has not been taken.

Doing first and asking for permission later did not work in an adjoining township. Comstock Township is protecting the public health, safety and welfare by requiring adherence to its zoning ordinance; and applications for necessary zoning and building code permits. The operation is not “shut down”. The agricultural use of the property, as allowed in the AGR district may continue. It is the commercial aspect of the site; the addition of non-agricultural uses; and the use of the building for other-than-agricultural purposes that must cease, until zoning and building code approval is obtained through the formal process expected of any other business in Comstock Township.