By Scott Sullivan
“You can’t hurry love,” sang the ‘60s group The Supremes. Nor can North-Shore of Saugatuck begin building a boat basin, per the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance’s latest appeal of Saugatuck Township approvals to the Michigan Supreme Court.
The environmental group seeks to overturn rulings that it lacks legal standing to appeal NorthShore getting go-aheads to build a boat basin ringed by homes north of the Kalamazoo River channel to Lake Michigan.
The owner/developer also needs a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit before work begins.
The township planning commission in October 2017 gave NorthShore, whose principal Jeff Padnos owns 308 acres north of the channel, planned unit development and special approval uses to build 23 site condominiums and 33 boat slips around a 6.54-acre basin excavated from its property and connected to the waterway.
The township zoning board of appeals, then Allegan County Circuit Court, declined to hear appeals filed by the Alliance and neighboring individuals, claiming complainants lacked “aggrieved” status needed legally to contest public body rulings.
The Michigan Appeals Court affirmed the circuit and ZBA rulings Aug. 29, but remanded to the circuit court a deliberation on Alliance base basin issues.
The SDCA claims township approvals violate its own ordinance Article XII Water Access and Dock Density Regulations, Section 40-910(h) of which reads, “In no event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing Water frontage.”
The group does not cite subsequent Section 40-910(i), which says, “To the extent applicable, this article shall be considered when the Township receives a Planned Unit Development Application. At the discretion of the Township, and as allowed by the standards in Section 40-779 and Section 40-780, the requirements of this article may be modified.
Planners approved the PUD based on the latter as advised by township attorney Scott Smith — wrongly, per the SDCA, which argues Section 40-910 (i) makes “in no event” a threshold standard.
The Alliance, which filed its application for leave to appeal Oct. 10, claims the appeals court erred in ruling the group and adjacent property owners “would not suffer harms distinct from other property owners similarly situated where, among other things, the lay-down area for the dredging spoils from the project will directly and uniquely harm the property.”
The group contends testimony by the late Sen. Patty Birkholz, adjacent landowners Diane Bily and Kathy Bily-Wallace, cross-river landowner Chris Deam, charter boat operators Mort Van Howe and Dave Engel, realtor Liz Engel and Mike Johnson, whose Coral Gables complex includes its own marina and jet-ski rental business, shows they too would suffer unique harms should the basin be completed.
NorthShore representative Scott Bosgraaf called the SDCA appeal the latest in its “death by 1,000 paper cuts” strategy: i.e. delay work long enough through appeals process that it bleeds the owner dry economically.
The democratic process, Alliance president David Swan countered, gives citizens the right to question the legality of government bodies’ actions.
“The SDCA’s strategy,” said Bosgraaf, “is clearly focused on delay and obstruction rather than on a good faith challenge to the North-Shore’s conservation-based development.
“The SDCA’s arguments have been rejected twice by the planning commission, twice by the zoning board of appeals, twice by the circuit court and twice by the appeals court.
“Unfortunately, by repeatedly appealing every approval, the SDCA is costing the township time and resources and, unfortunately, ultimately the taxpayers money,” Bosgraaf said.
“The Alliance,” Swan said, “has asked the Supreme Court to listen to our argument that citizens should have a right to participate in the zoning process, and to make sure citizens can serve as vigilant government watchdogs to ensure local officials follow the laws and ordinances that they have sworn to uphold.
“Peg and Jeff Padnos have prolonged the appeal several times over by claiming local citizens don’t have standing to ask the ZBA for an opinion on the merits of this case,” Swan continued.
“The also fail to recognize that the township is being represented by an insurance-provided lawyer. The township defense of the appeals is not costing taxpayers anything. Once again, Peg and Jeff make unsubstantiated, misleading and false claims,” he said.