Winery wins big at state’s top court
By Peter H. Milliken
A tiny Lake Milton winery has won a big victory at the Ohio Supreme Court for itself and for Ohio’s agricultural interests.
The state’s top court unanimously ruled Tuesday that Myrddin Winery, 3020 Scenic Drive, is exempt from Milton Township zoning regulations.
The effect of the decision is that the winery may remain in its current location in a residential neighborhood off South East River Road along the east shore of Lake Milton.
Saying every Ohio township resident has a legal right to farm, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and Mahoning County Farm Bureau declared their support for the winery while the case was pending in the courts.
“The court’s decision clarifies and affirms an important section of state law that limits counties’ and townships’ ability to regulate agriculture through zoning,” said Chad Endsley, director of agricultural law at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
The state Legislature has exempted agricultural operations meeting certain criteria from some aspects of local zoning laws because it has recognized that “un-uniform local regulations can be a significant impediment to farming,” he added.
The decision’s primary effect “will be to open doors in the wine-making industry,” said David S. Pennington of Dublin, the lawyer representing Myrddin. “It’s an affirmation of the state Legislature’s intent to support the wine industry in Ohio,” he added.
“A township has no zoning authority over the use of buildings or structures for the vinting and selling of wine on property that is also used for viticulture [the cultivation of grapes],” the top court said, referring to provisions of state legislation.
In its ruling, the top court overruled the 7th District Court of Appeals and Judge John M. Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in the case of Jenifer Terry, zoning inspector, v. Gayle K. Sperry, winery operator.
The appeals court upheld Judge Durkin’s decision, which barred Sperry from operating the winery at her present location, which is zoned as a single-family residential district.
Terry had sought Judge Durkin’s order based on neighbors’ complaints about the winery’s traffic and retail activity in a residential area.
In its ruling, the top court acknowledged that only 5 percent of Myrddin’s sales are derived from grapes produced on winery property.
However, the court ruled: “The statute does not establish a minimum number of vines needed for cultivation to constitute viticulture. The growing and harvesting of grapes on the Sperry property thus satisfies the term ‘viticulture.’”
During the legal battle, some of the winery’s neighbors posted signs, saying “Winos go home” and “Uphold Judge Durkin’s ruling. Close this bar.”
Atty. Mark S. Finamore of Warren, who represented the township, could not be reached to comment.