The Charter Township of Oakland and the Rochester Cider Mill have been ordered to meet with a court-appointed mediator – in this case, a retired judge – to work together to reach an agreement regarding a 1987 court order that restricts the operation of the cider mill while still allowing it to operate as a business in an area zoned for single-family residences.
Tom Barkham, who owns the Rochester Cider Mill, filed a motion to repeal the 1987 order in March, saying that the cider mill should be allowed to operate as a farm market under the current Michigan Right to Farm Act.
The order was not repealed today, as the owners of the cider mill had hoped it would be, at least in part because the order has already been in place for 24 years. Judge Michael Warren heard arguments from attorneys representing both parties during Wednesday’s hearing in Oakland County Circuit Court.
“What we’re seeking here is fairness and consistency,” said Geoffrey Harrison, attorney for Rochester Cider Mill. “There’s case law that suggests that something like a year is considered reasonable. Well, maybe that’s true in a usual case … but this is not a usual case in many respects.
“I find it a little bit difficult to reconcile the fact that on one hand, the township is claiming it’s too late to seek to avoid the operation of this order, but they haven’t enforced it, either, from 1987 to 2010.”
“Everybody’s been working with that judgment for 24 years, and it’s been working fine,” said Steven Joppich, attorney for Oakland Township. “It’s never been enforced to the point of bringing it to court. … We had no need to come to court to enforce it till 2010, when things escalated and the business was expanded beyond the terms of that judgment.”
Judge Warren agreed with the township, saying, "If you sit on your rights for 20 years, that's pretty close to adverse possession.”
He added, “Now, it’s 2011. That’s over 20 years. How is that a reasonable time? … If this were 1991 and you came to court … that I could understand.”
The judge ordered the case into facilitation, requiring the Rochester Cider Mill and Charter Township of Oakland to meet with a mediator to work through their differences and reach an agreement. The parties will appear again before Judge Warren within 60 days, said Joppich.
“We would agree upon a proposed amendment to the order (and) bring it to Judge Warren,” Joppich said. “If he finds it acceptable, he would enter it and it would become the new order of the court that would apply to the property.”
"We'd hoped to get an answer today," Barkham said an interview with Patch. "It sounds like a delay."
Barkham said he hoped the court would rule in his favor soon.
"I think it's a proper result. We've been asking the cider mill to talk since before we came in for the contempt hearing," Joppich said. “We’re glad to see they’re going to be forced to sit down with us.”