Traverse City Horse Shows Feud With Acme Township

May 20, 2022 - 8:00 AM

Michigan’s 13-week Traverse City Horse Shows series, scheduled to begin June 8, could be canceled this year if show organizers and local government officials cannot resolve an ongoing dispute about management of the showgrounds.

On May 9, Acme Township notified TCHS management that the show’s special use permit will be suspended and the show not allowed to run if organizers don’t resolve zoning violations related to issues including management of traffic, dust and debris.

“Violations of Acme Township and Grand Traverse County regulations on the TCHS site were first identified in spring 2021, just weeks ahead of the 2021 season’s June start date,” the township stated in a May 12 press release announcing its plans to suspend the show series. “Acme Township, working with TCHS in good faith to identify all violations, did not shut down operations for the 2021 horse show season.”

Now, however, in light of what the township considered TCHS’s continued failure to address the issues—listed as more than 20 conditions of a special use permit the township granted earlier this year—it informed show officials earlier this month it will suspend the permit and issue a cease and desist order until its conditions are met.

In response, show officials issued a press release May 16 to “reassure” riders, owners, vendors and others that the show is scheduled to start on time, despite the township’s threats.

“Flintfields Horse Park is located in Acme Township, which has historically regulated operations at the facility through its zoning ordinance,” the release stated. “Expansions and upgrades to the facility have been approved and are moving forward with all appropriate permissions. At this time, Traverse City Horse Shows is proceeding with preparing Flintfields Horse Park for the beginning of the 2022 season.”

Town supervisor Doug White said Thursday that he had no independent confirmation that the conditions had been met, but he was confident that the show will work hard to get everything resolved by June 8.

“There are conditions to meet in their special use permit, and they will let us know, or I figure they should let us know, that they met the conditions,” White said. “Then we’ll go through them and check them off and, bingo. I have all expectations that they will meet those conditions, but at the time we had sent out the press release on May 12 it wasn’t done. I’d like to send [out a new press release] saying they’ve met the conditions.”

Acme Township’s board of trustees meets the day before the show begins, and the board will consider whether conditions have been met or if they must put out a cease and desist order.

“They have right up until June 8 [to meet the conditions], so it could be a scramble,” White said. “I believe that they can do it, and on their website they said they met everything.”

The conflict between the township and show management has been brewing for over a year and continued after the 2021 show series ended.

In September 2021, the township warned TCHS that it needed to resolve the violations noted earlier that year and come into full compliance with the town’s requirements or risk an injunction. In response, Matt Morrissey, managing partner of Morrissey Management Group, hired a land use consultant and applied for a required special use permit. The township approved the permit April 5 of this year, but included more than 20 conditions that had to be met prior to the opening of the show season.

The conditions include updated parking, proper access for emergency services, pedestrian walkways, storm water containment during heavy rains, manure management, dust control, dirt and debris management on the street on which TCHS operates, landscaping to shield the view from neighbors, obtaining all relevant permits from other agencies and more.

On April 28, Acme Township’s attorney received a letter from the attorney of TCHS requesting certain considerations and waivers, but the township is standing firm. The township says that if conditions approved by the township board are not addressed ahead of the start of the show, the township will order that the show cease and desist operations for the 2022 season.

“We’ve been trying to work with them,” said White. “It’s been over a year now. We want them to be successful. We’d like to get everything resolved, and we’d like to have them come into compliance with this. It’s nothing they haven’t agreed to, so on that point I feel that they should or will have it [done]. There’s a reason for zoning. I don’t believe that we’re asking them anything different than we’d ask any other business to do.”

Traverse City Horse Shows includes special events such as the Adequan USEF Junior Hunter National Championships—East, the FEI North American Youth Jumping and Dressage Championships, the USHJA Young Jumper Championship, the American Gold Cup, and several Major League Show Jumping events.

Traverse City Horse Shows did not respond by press time to questions about details pertaining to plans to meet the stipulated conditions.

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