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Exit 41 landowner eyes commercial/residential plan


By Scott Sullivan


The owner of 33 acres east of I-196 Exit 41 is seeking Laketown Township commercial planned unit development approval to build there on both sides of Blue Star Highway.

But Dick Darby’s construction start and end dates remain unclear.

Darby — a Holland developer who in 2007 agreed with Kalamazoo Lake Sewer & Water Authority members to repurchase his buy-sell agreement with Utah-based Flying J. Inc., which planned to build truck stop there, in return for KLSWA’s willingness to extend sewer lines east under the expressway — will present his request at a Laketown planning commission public hearing Wednesday, Dec. 6, in the township hall, 4338 Beeline Rd., at 7 p.m.

The Saugatuck Township board is expected to discuss legal negotiations with Laketown about the matter at its meeting the same night at six in its hall, 3461 Blue Star Hwy.

Preliminary plans by Holland Engineering for Darby Enterprises LLC’s Prairie Ponds development show 11 lots ranging from one to 5 acres with road access north of Blue Star, and another seven lots between 0.5 and 1.15 acres with road access south of Blue Star extending to 136th Avenue.

Conspicuous excavations began on the parcel early this year, prompting KLSWA manager Daryl VanDyke to write Laketown officials May 12 asking they work cooperatively and in advance with Saugatuck Township and the authority on any proposed development in the district.

Part of the 2007 agreement, VanDyke said, is any resulting contract “shall require that an engineering firm selected by Saugatuck Township shall study on the basis of generally-accepted municipal utility engineering practices, at the cost of Laketown, whether the presently-existing Saugatuck Township sewer infrastructure, including the Blue Star and Clearbrook lift stations, is adequate to accommodate the increased flow from Laketown; or, in the alternative, whether to upgrade, repair or replace the existing Saugatuck Township sewer infrastructure.”

The Saugatuck Township Board June 7 approved hiring Prein & Newhof engineering to review the aforesaid infrastructure. The $25,600 cost would be billed to Laketown in keeping with terms of the agreement, which also included KLSWA partners Saugatuck and Douglas cities.

That review, said KLSWA manager Darrell VanDyke, is pending. “Laketown would have to request it be done.”

Darby, who bought his first parcel near Exit 41 in 1980, claimed 10 years ago it had been a long time for him to pay taxes, especially after having three prior proposals turned down due lack of facilities at the site.

He claimed then he might have no choice but bring back the Flying J should KLSWA partners fail to reach an agreement to extend sewer to his land.

The municipal partners agreed to amend their contract with Laketown to extend lines under the expressway — at Laketown’s expense, presumably via billing the developer — on condition Darby would not build a truck stop, livestock-production facility or slaughterhouse on the land.

Douglas later sued Saugatuck claiming the latter city had illegally agreed to sell 30,000 gallons of its excess sewer capacity to Darby and the neighboring Belvedere Inn without Douglas’s consent.

Douglas then owned 49.2 percent of KLSWA Wastewater Treatment Plant capacity, the City of Saugatuck 36.4 percent, Saugatuck Township 9 percent and nonvoting Laketown 5 percent.

The suit has been settled and joint KLSWA operating agreement rewritten to terms that apply today.

Laketown rezoned Darby’s and several adjacent parcels from C-2 General Business District to C-3 Highway Business District in March 2013, with board members saying it would give them more say over possible future development in the area.

Darby’s Nov. 13 PUD application says the proposed development will, “Provide for needs that exist in the surrounding community and those created by access to I-196 and Blue Star Highway.”

“Our goal,” it says under Comments, “is to develop an upscale site condominium project that will blend in and be commercially harmonious with surrounding communities of Douglas and Saugatuck as well as the future development of the Jeff and Peg Padnos project at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan.

“We also wish to be good neighbors with the Belvedere Inn & Restaurant and the future use of the Red Barn Theatre; the kind of good neighbors who complement each other.

“As a site condominium project, our streets, snow plowing, exterior lighting and the total landscaping maintenance will be prorated between individual sites.

“Architecturally, we wish to have a common thread throughout that will create both harmony as well as individually. An architectural committee will be formed to monitor and enforce same.”

Darby’s construction timeline, given approval, is indefinite. “If granted,” says his application affidavit, “actual construction will begin within ‘12?” months from the date of granting and be completed in ‘?’ years.”

Comments on the application can be made in person at Laketown’s Dec. 6 public hearing or by writing. Written comments will be accepted until 4 p.m. that day.

Documents concerning the request may be reviewed at the township hall during normal business hours. For more information, call (616) 335-3050.