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Dunes advocates seek township backing

Dunes advocates seek township backing


By Scott Sullivan


Four residents are asking the Saugatuck Township Board to pass a resolution supporting an alternate plan to North Shore of Saugatuck LLC’s proposed private boat basin.

The board was scheduled Wednesday, Jan. 8, to consider a request by Dave and Liz Engel, Dayle Harrison and Kathi Bily Wallace to support stronger regulatory protections for the Kalamazoo River mouth, where North Shore owns 308 acres fronting Lake Michigan. That public meeting took place after this week’s print deadline.

North Shore, whose principal is Holland businessman Jeff Padnos, is seeking U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval to build a 6.5-acre marina ringed by 23 homes on land once occupied by Singapore, a lumber settlement drifted over by sand in the 1870s.

Wallace, Harrison and the Engels are affiliated with the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, which since 2007 has targeted that area for preservation.

The four want the township board to acknowledge what they call the key paragraphs in the (2005-passed) Tri-Community Master Plan that detail the historical, cultural and ecological resources in the Kalamazoo River mouth neighborhood, and to support concepts of:

  • A state natural river designation and state environmental area for wetlands at the river mouth, and
  • Designating an Alliance-commissioned FreshWater Engineering marina proposal to the USACE as a least environmentally-damaging practical alternative.

The Corps Aug. 30 last year rejected an earlier Freshwater proposal claiming:

  • The practicable alternative must provide 46 slips;
  • The practicable alternative must include modeling showing that a floating wave attenuator will adequately protect vessels moored within the marinas;
  • A proposed floating wave attenuator will not allow for broadside mooring; and
  • The practicable alternative must not impact any archaeological sites or nearby navigation structures.

Paperwork submitted by the four claims that Freshwater, teaming with MSA Professional Services, has devised another alternative marina design that fully addresses the four Corps concerns above.

It would make use of two marinas: a 36-slip one at Freshwater’s prior proposed site, plus a secondary 10-slip marina off Dugout Road east and further inland from Lake Michigan.

Changes to the first-proposed wave attenuator, would also meet USACE criteria as expressed, the materials say.

“North Shore,” the firm’s attorney, Carl Gabrielse, countered, “fully supports the Township’s commitment to the overall goals and objectives of the Tri-Community Master Plan.

“However, it is not in favor of Alliance members cherry-picking certain phrases from the plan and using them out of context to further their agenda,” he went on.

Proposal advocates cite plan portions that call for preserving the scenic beauty, fostering the wise use of natural resources, protecting environmentally-sensitive areas and enhancing the special character of the Tri-Communities.

“Although waterfront lands have high revenue generating potential,” reads another section quoted often by Alliance members, “a major attraction of both the Lake Michigan and Kalamazoo River waterfronts is their scenic, natural shorelines composed of forested sand dunes and large wetland areas.

“Should these natural areas be greatly damaged or destroyed through inappropriate development, then the ‘goose that laid the golden egg’ will be dead.”

“The proposed resolution,” said Gabrielse, “fails to mention the Master Plan’s stated foundational goal of protecting the ‘private property rights of waterfront property owners,’ its promotion of ‘carefully planned development along the Kalamazoo River,’ and its endorsement of ‘mixed use’ development of the waterfront, including residential use along with waterfront-related developments such as ‘marinas and other ship/shore activities,’ (Sec. 1-13 and 10-7).

“The North Shore development, which the township has already approved, fully embraces the goals and objectives of the Master Plan,” he went on, “but don’t take my word for it.

“The Township’s own independent outside planner described North Shore’s plans as being wholly consistent with the Plan’s objective to ‘preserve the natural character and natural assets of the site.’

“In its place,” said the attorney, “proponents of this resolution would have the Township back a half-baked alternative marina design advanced by the Alliance that the Army Corps has already rejected as unfeasible and impractical.

“Because the Alliance’s alternative design would have all watercraft moored directly in the river right at the mouth of the channel, it would not provide even basic protection for watercraft and would create unnecessary congestion.”

The township board is all new, largely due to a November 2018 recall vote, since former members granted NorthShore planned unit development (PUD) approval for its basin concept.

The Alliance continues appealing that action, along with the then-Michigan Department of Environmental Quality OKing the basin and access road plans, based in part on the township’s anti-keyholing ordinance.

Article XII – Water Access and Dock Density Regulations, Section 40-190(h), reads, “In no event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing the Water Frontage required by this action.”

“The Alliance,” Gabrielse argued, “has twisted the meaning of the Water Access ordinance all along. The North Shore development fully complies with the ordinance, as evidenced by the planning commission’s approval.

“The resolution is directly contrary to both the PUD already approved (and the consent decree entered in federal court (the result of former landowner Aubrey McClendon suing the township for illegally down-zoning the property in 2016).

“The consent decree prohibits the Township from treating the NorthShore property differently than others,” the lawyer said. “It also mandates that the NorthShore property will be governed by the R-2 and R-3 zoning regulations.

“The resolution, however, advocates for imposing an entirely different set of zoning regulations on the NorthShore property by making it a Natural River designated area,” he said.

Chances are the Alliance, and residents asking the board to support their proposal, dispute that and more litigation may await.

Stay tuned.