By Craig Manning | May 13, 2022 Traverse City Ticker
Will Traverse City Horse Shows (TCHS) be allowed to proceed with its summer 2022 events?
While the popular equestrian festival has weathered the pandemic without event cancellations or shutdowns, an escalating dispute with Acme Township could leave event organizers scrambling save their upcoming season. Acme Township announced Thursday it was giving TCHS an ultimatum: Resolve all zoning violations or face a complete suspension of operations. That announcement comes just 27 days ahead of when TCHS is set to kick off its 13-week summer 2022 season.
The township sent a letter to TCHS on May 9 informing the organization’s attorneys of the “impending suspension” if violations are not resolved. “If TCHS does not satisfy the conditions stipulated in the special use permit prior to beginning of the 2022 TCHS season, Acme Township will issue an order to cease and desist all TCHS operations in violation of its zoning ordinance,” the letter stated.
Acme Township began issuing citations against TCHS last year, claiming the organization had repeatedly failed to obtain timely approvals for new construction and improvement projects at Flintfields Horse Park on Bates Road. Planning commissioners have expressed concerns about “losing control” of TCHS as event organizers continue to expand both the geographical footprint of the festival and the summer calendar of events. Local residents who own property near Flintfields have also raised issues, even calling on TCHS to conduct comprehensive parking and traffic studies to assess and mitigate negative impacts on neighbors and traffic flow along M-72 and Bates Road.
In December, Matt Morrissey – managing partner of Morrissey Management Group, the parent company that operates TCHS – told The Ticker that his team was “working diligently” to address the concerns of township officials and local residents alike. That work included plans to develop a new parking plan for Flintfields and to conduct a traffic study aimed at resolving backups at the M-72/Bates Road intersection, among other items.
“We want to work through these issues with Acme,” Morrissey said at the time. “I think everyone is working toward the same end goal.”
Due to continued growth at Flintfields, Acme Township planning commissioners voted last June to consider recent expansion projects at the park as a major amendment to TCHS’s existing special use permit. That decision left TCHS to seek approvals for work it had already started at Flintfields.
The township ultimately allowed TCHS to proceed with summer 2021 events in spite of permit violations, but sent a letter to TCHS attorneys last September stating that the festival “must be in full compliance with the Acme Township Zoning Ordinance requirements for the 2022 TCHS season or risk a cease-and-desist order or injunction,” per Thursday’s press release.
That September letter prompted TCHS to seek a new special use permit from Acme Township, which the township board of trustees unanimously approved at an April 5 meeting. However, the approved special use permit did outline more than 20 conditions that TCHS needs to satisfy in order to continue operating – many of which must be met before summer 2022 events can move forward. Among other requirements, the permit called on TCHS to develop an expanded parking plan, to create proper access for fire and ambulance services, to review its stormwater containment strategies, to install landscaping buffers between Flintfields and neighboring properties, to conduct a traffic impact study, and to devise measures for reducing dust, dirt, and debris on Bates Road.
Acme Township Supervisor Doug White tells The Ticker that, as of yet, TCHS has not met any of the conditions in its new special use permit. What prompted Thursday’s action was a letter the township received from TCHS legal counsel on April 28 requesting considerations and waivers for some of the conditions. White says the township is not willing to grant any exceptions to the special use permit “at this point in time,” hence the announcement that Acme Township will suspend TCHS for the 2022 season unless all violations are resolved.
Trevor Tkach, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism (TCT), says a cancellation or disruption of TCHS events could be a significant blow to the region’s still-recovering tourism economy.
“TCT recently sponsored an economic impact study of TCHS,” Tkach says. “The report concluded that the equestrian events drove hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity in our region. $120 million of those dollars were spent directly into a hospitality and leisure industry. TCHS has done an excellent job of expanding their schedule into June and September, helping to foster a more balanced visitor economy that supports small business owners and keeps workers more fully employed throughout the year.”
For his part, White assures that the township is not trying to hamper TCHS or drive the event out of the area. He says the goal is to resolve longstanding issues between the festival, the township, and local residents before TCHS proceeds with another season or grows any further.
“Acme Township wants the Horse Shows to be successful,” White says. “I don’t think there is any dispute on that. We’ve been working with TCHS since last spring, to address a long list of violations. But it’s been over a year, and we’re just trying to get them into compliance [with our zoning].”
“We have not seen the press release which was released by the township and as such are not able to respond,” says Lindsay Brock – part of the TCHS marketing team – when asked to comment on the matter. “When and if the township provides us with a copy, we will have an appropriate response.”
TCHS did not respond to further requests for comment.
TCHS had just recently announced plans to welcome spectators back to Flintfields this summer, after two years where COVID-19 safety policies prevented the general public from attending TCHS events.
Pictured: Israeli Olympian Daniel Bluman competes at Traverse City Horse Shows (courtesy of TCHS and Andrew Ryback Photography)