2016-09-22 / Courts

One felony tossed, but Noverr still faces another for ‘obstructing’

Elmwood winemaker has another attorney
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

FRANK NOVERR, left, looks on while his criminal defense attorney Shawn Worden of Traverse City confers with Leelanau County Assistant Prosecutor Tristan Chamberlain during a hearing Tuesday in 86th District Court. FRANK NOVERR, left, looks on while his criminal defense attorney Shawn Worden of Traverse City confers with Leelanau County Assistant Prosecutor Tristan Chamberlain during a hearing Tuesday in 86th District Court. One of two felony charges against the owner of a controversial “wedding barn” on Lakeview Road in Elmwood Township has been dismissed.

Nonetheless, Frank Noverr of Elmwood Township is still charged with a felony that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison if he is convicted of obstructing a sheriff’s deputy who was responding to an emergency Aug. 13 on Noverr’s property.

Leelanau County Assistant Prosecutor Tristan Chamberlain said Tuesday that additional information gathered since the incident indicates that an emergency medical technician who drove an ambulance to the Noverr property in response to a 9-1-1 call on Aug. 13 “was not obstructed by Mr. Noverr,” resulting in one of the felony charges being dismissed.

Noverr appeared before 86th District Court Magistrate Norene Kastys on Tuesday for a probable cause hearing accompanied by a new attorney. Criminal defense attorney Shawn Worden told Kastys he would need more time to work on the case.

The next step in the legal proceedings, a preliminary exam, was to be held next week. At Worden’s request, the next court hearing will be held Oct. 4 at 1:30 p.m. instead.

In an arraignment that occurred last month, Noverr was represented by his longtime real estate attorney Matthew Vermetten, who was present at Tuesday’s proceedings but did not participate.

Vermetten has been representing Noverr before the Elmwood Township Planning Commission, which is considering Noverr’s request for a conditional land use permit that would allow Noverr to operate a “seasonal wine tasting room” on his property.

Coincidentally, the continuation of a public hearing on Noverr’s permit application was held Tuesday evening at the Elmwood Township Hall – the same day of Noverr’s probable cause hearing in 86th District Court.

The conditional land use permit would allow Noverr to do a number of things not currently allowed on his 28-acre farm including hosting weddings, receptions and other mass gatherings on a commercial basis.

When a sheriff’s deputy and an Elmwood Township ambulance responded to a 9-1-1 call at Noverr Farm on Aug. 13, the deputy reported that hundreds of people were there, apparently for a wedding reception. Noverr allegedly told the deputy that “only he and his wife were on the property,” according to the criminal complaint filed against Noverr.

It turns out that a woman in medical distress on Noverr’s property on Aug. 13 may have been suffering from a drug overdose. She was transported to Munson Medical Center, treated and released.

Neighbors in Noverr’s Lakeview Road neighborhood in the northwestern corner of Elmwood Township have been complaining for years about noise and increased traffic attributed to “special events” held at Noverr’s farm. Since he signed a “settlement agreement” with the township in 2013 pledging to stop holding such events on a commercial basis, Noverr has insisted that he was not compensated for any events he has hosted there.

Township zoning administrator Sara Kopriva said a public hearing at this week’s Planning Commission meeting was held primarily so Noverr and his real estate attorney could submit more documents and information related to his application for a conditional land use permit. She said the public hearing will be continued at a meeting next month.

Earlier this year, Noverr successfully sued Kopriva and the Elmwood Township Zoning Board of Appeals for declining to consider his conditional land use permit application. Township officials had said his application was not complete, but a judge subsequently disagreed.

As for the felony charge, Noverr is now facing in 86th District Court, Chamberlain said a plea offer has been made to Noverr that has yet to be considered by the defendant and his new attorney. Chamberlain said the Prosecuting Attorney’s office would be willing to offer a plea deal to reduce the charge to an “attempt” to obstruct a police officer.

The maximum penalty for “attempting” to obstruct a police officer is one year in jail or prison.

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