By Scott Sullivan
Cottage Home of Holland closed Jan. 30 on 304 acres dubbed by some “The Wild Heart of Saugatuck” on which it hopes to build about 40 homes plus a boat basin.
The firm, with financial backing from Padnos Iron and Metal Co. president Jeff Padnos and his wife, Peg, wants to place more than two-thirds of the former Denison-McClendon land, fronting Lake Michigan north of the Kalamazoo River Channel, into a conservation easement.
The new owners “wish to create a place which honors past history, protects valuable natural features and provides exceptional living experiences,” said Cottage Home president Brian Bosgraaf.
“Environmental and community leaders were involved at the onset and directly influenced the analysis process to create an atmosphere of collaboration rather than contention,” he continued.
“Over the next few months, plans will be designed (and redesigned), covenant guidelines will be crafted, ecosystem management plans written and sustainable design, building and development best practices will be identified.
“But most importantly, we will be listening,” Bosgraaf said.
Tentative plans call for 15 home sites on 35.7 acres fronting the northwest channel and lake already approved for 18 homes for past owner Singapore Dunes, the late Aubrey McClendon’s Saugatuck Township land firm.
Cottage Home is eyeing another two to four homes as allowed by right on 10.2 downriver acres northwest of Pine Trail Camp.
The township planning commission will hold a public hearing on the firm’s request to rezone 95.67 acres for 23 homes ringing a boat basin Monday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. in the township hall. This proposed Northshore Harbor Cluster corresponds with the former Singapore lumber village, buried by drifting sands in the 1870s, and a Denison family boat-building plant dismantled by Singapore Dunes eight years ago.
“By building around a basin on land that’s long been disturbed, we won’t need to reclaim our investment elsewhere and can place 208.3 acres in a conservation easement,” Bosgraaf said. “That’s what Jeff, Peg and I are thinking.”
Cottage Home will also ask Feb. 28 to rezone 17.2 acres on the eastern part of its parcel fronting 135th Avenue and Blue Star Highway from R-1 Riverside Residential to C-1 General Commercial.
McClendon, then owner and CEO of natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy, acquired much of the subject land in his $39.5 million purchase of 403 acres north and south of the channel from Denison family estates in 2006.
The transaction ended a public effort to buy and preserve what many called “the Wild Heart of Saugatuck” and spurred years of litigation.
McClendon, also owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team, sold 173 acres south of the channel to the City of Saugatuck for $19 million in 2009. That land, north of and adjacent to the city-owned Oval Beach, now comprises the public Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.
But the billionaire businessman continued plans to develop the north former Denison land plus 83 acres he’d purchased east of it. In 2010 he proposed a Singapore Dunes resort with a 66-slip marina, seven-story inn, 9-hole golf course, 100 homes and equestrian area.
Two years later he and the township settled a federal lawsuit voiding restrictive zoning placed on the property three weeks before he completed buying it.
McClendon then sought a zoning variance for its resort plan, but withdrew it after township officials made clear they would not support it.
He withdrew them that August after winning Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approval to build a two-mile paved road and utility access through critical dunes from the parcel’s east portion to the western home sites. That road is essentially complete now.
McClendon was killed in a single-car crash less than a day after being indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly rigging bids on oil and natural gas leases in his home state.
Police said he “drove straight into” an overpass wall at high speed. “There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the road,” said Oklahoma City Police Capt. Paco Balderrama. “But that didn’t happen.”
Singapore Dunes relisted the entire parcel with Sotheby’s a month later for $40 million. Cottage Home, with Padnos’ support, agreed to acquire that land — less a luxury beach home built by Ken Denison on five acres listed at one time separately for $10 million — for an undisclosed purchase price in December. “It was not $40 million,” Bosgraaf conceded.
The new owner has an exclusive five-year lease on that added parcel. “We hope to acquire it as well.
“All we plan are single-family homes on a small part of the land,” he said.
Cottage Home is well known in the area. Bosgraaf, who worked with his family running Holland-based Bosgraaf Homes before in 2000 launching his more-specialized business building and designing well-appointed beach dwellings, published the coffee table book “Life on the Lakeshore: The Cottage Experience,” sharing the stories of nine family buyers, this spring. It was unveiled during an April 23, 2016, open house at Saugatuck Brewing Co.
“Cottage Home,” said the firm in a press release regarding its then-planned purchase of the McClendon land in December,” “has a track record of positive collaboration with the lakeshore townships and cities.
“Over the last 16 years, Cottage Home has designed and built more than 100 homes, the majority located on Lake Michigan. (It) has also built many award-winning lakeshore developments, completed more than 30 LEED-certified homes and been recognized as a leader in implementing development best practices for sustainable communities.”
“We have long recognized,” Bosgraaf said, “that our buyers do not come to the lakeshore because we build cool vacation homes. They come here because this is a great place to live. They come here for the connection to water, the natural beauty of the surroundings and world-class coastal towns.
“We recognize the enormous responsibility we have, and feel we are uniquely qualified to protect this area of the lakeshore.
“We garnered the trust of investor Jeff Padnos because we have like-minded views on sustainability, energy conservation and commitment to the community,” Bosgraaf said.
He told the township board at its Feb. 1 meeting he and the Padnoses saw opportunities to build public steps to a sweeping view west of the lake and land from a high point on the east central part of the property, and to work with the Kalamazoo Lake Sewer and Water Authority to identify future well sites on their land.
“These could serve the entire community,” Bosgraaf said.
The new owner has in recent weeks invited local environmentalists, leaders and others on tours he has led of the parcel, discussing its options and opportunities.
These tours — which last about two and one-half hours and can accommodate as many as 12 people — will resume in mid-March when weather allows, he told The Commercial Record. To reserve space on one, email firstname.lastname@example.org.