Path Cleared for Long-Term Mitten Brewing Lease
By Art Bukowski | Feb. 9, 2024
A legal dispute blamed for the potential eviction of a beloved Northport business has finally been resolved.
The Northport Village Council on Thursday evening agreed to a deal that resolves the ownership and use of Park Drive, which snakes north from Nagonaba Street up to Third Street. The village and Karl Wizinsky, who owns adjacent property, had long argued about claim to a section of the street after Wizinsky’s deed appeared to show that he owned it, Village Manager Jim Dyer tells The Ticker.
The ongoing dispute over the street led Wizinsky to declare in October of 2022 that he wouldn’t extend the lease for his tenant, The Mitten Brewing. This generated intense uproar on social media and throughout the village as residents and visitors lamented losing the very popular business.
Wizinsky eventually granted Mitten a one-year extension, followed by a month-to-month lease while the disagreement dragged on. Though Wizinsky did not respond to a request for comment for this story, The Mitten co-owner Chris Andrus told The Ticker ahead of Thursday’s meeting that he hopes to secure a five or even 10-year lease if the dispute is finally put to rest.
The Mitten, which also has locations in Grand Rapids and Saugatuck, opened in Northport in 2016. Andrus says Northport is one of his family’s “favorite spots on Earth,” and he wants to be there for the long haul.
“We immediately felt at home in Northport, and that’s what’s been driving us to want to stay there so badly,” Andrus tells The Ticker. “It’s not a huge part of our business, but it’s a very special part of our business. And the people are special. We’re fighting for our staff as much as anything, because if this doesn’t happen, they’ll lose their jobs.”
Dyer echoed those sentiments.
“My hope as village manager is that we maintain The Mitten as a resident business in Northport for as long as they want to be here,” he says. “We definitely want to encourage that.”
Dyer says the deal reached Thursday involves a remaining 4-foot-wide sliver along The Mitten that still had disputed ownership after other deals resolved the rest of the roadway. The village will deed that sliver to Wizinsky and still maintain a right of way for use of Park Drive. The issue previously reached a boiling point when Wizinsky blocked access to the street, Dyer says.
“He had a reasonable basis to believe he actually owned it, and he was concerned that continued use (of the street) would create a liability situation for him,” he says.
The village in turn believed that regardless of Wizinsky’s deed, Park Drive’s use as a public street for a period of many years – along with the village’s work to improve and maintain the street – meant it was a public roadway under a legal concept known as “highway by use.”
In addition to resolving the street issue, Thursday’s deal gives the village a lease on the corner of Wizinsky’s property that contains a very large evergreen tree that is used as the village’s official Christmas tree each year, along with a rock wall that has periodically displayed a large sign welcoming visitors to the village.
The village can now maintain the tree as it sees fit and install a permanent sign if it so chooses.
“Everybody gets something that they want, and everybody’s happy,” Dyer says.
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