By Scott Sullivan
Saugatuck Township Planning Commission chair Kathleen Miller Cook wants township staff to hire a certified planner to help that body’s deliberations on North Shores of Saugatuck LLC’s requests to build 23 homes surrounding a boat basin where the lost lumber village of Singapore once stood.
Staff, claiming its engagement of an attorney and own zoning administrator suffice for the preliminary approval process, has declined to do so.
The commission tabled acting on North Shores’ requests at a Feb. 28 public hearing and again March 28, asking for more time in the second instance to review a seven-page memorandum received from township attorney Scott Smith earlier that same day.
Smith’s memo noted North Shore is not seeking township approval for the boat basin. The developer is seeking approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to construct the basin. Those applications include public notices and a public hearing, and preempt most local control.
Smith suggested 15 conditions for granting preliminary planned unit develop- ment and site condominium approvals to build the houses, noting when and if state and federal permits were procured and full developer plans submitted, the commission would still have final approval powers.
“There’s a lot to decide on. I’d like more time to digest the information,” Cook said March 28. A majority of peers agreed. The commission will hold its next meeting Wednesday, April 26, at 7 p.m. in the Saugatuck High School cafeteria, moved from the township hall to accommodate more attendees.
Prior owner Aubrey McClendon’s proposed development of the subject parcel, and attendant lawsuits, drew large crowds at meetings between 2006 and 2015, plus nationwide attention.
Cottage Home of Holland, with financial backing from Padnos Iron and Metal Co. president Jeff Padnos and his wife, Peg, closed this winter on the 304 acres fronting the Kalamazoo River channel and Lake Michigan, stretching east to Blue Star Highway.
Doing business as North Shores, the new owners plan to build about 40 single-family homes on the parcel, including the boat basin tract, first developed as Singapore in the 1830s and later occupied by a Denison family Broward Boat Works plant.
“By building around a basin on land that’s long been disturbed, we wont need to reclaim our investment elsewhere and can place 208.3 acres in a conservation easement,” Cottage Home president Brian Bosgraaf told The Commercial Record.
On March 14 Cook thanked township staff for allowing a lawyer to assist the commission handling North Shores’ requests, but asked for wider-ranging counsel.
“After considerable review of the complex issues facing the township regarding the North Shore Development,” Cook wrote, “I would also like to request the assistance of a certified planner to help review site plans for any SAU or site condo application; preferably one with experience in development in critical dunes.
“Given the history of this property, the complexity of this development and the recent changes in legislation regarding critical dune regulations, I firmly believe it is in the best interest of the township, as well as Cottage Home to utilize the consulting services of an experienced planner at this time.”
Cook noted the township had engaged certified planner Mark Sisson throughout the planning commission’s dealings with McClendon’s development requests.
In a follow-up letter to township officials sent April 13, Cook said that she and fellow commissioner Maggie Conklin had approached township clerk Brad Rudich and zoning administrator Steve Kushion in person March 22 seeking a certified planner’s assistance. She noted commissioner Joe Milauckas had also sent an email that day to supervisor Jon Phillips, township manager Aaron Sheridan, Rudich and Kushion to the same effect. Rudich is also a planning commission member.
“A majority of commissioners were asking for help,” Cook’s April 13 letter said. “Legal advice is not technical planning advice,” she added.
She recalled being turned down again in person by Rudich and Kushion April 11. Apprised the township had a $5,000 escrow for the project, Cook said Kushion told her it was set up to pay engineers, not planners.
Cook said she still does not have the information she knows she needs to make an informed decision. Whether a majority of other commission members feel the same way stands to come out April 26.
“I am not in favor of all this drama,” Bosgraaf told The Commercial Record. “Chairperson Cook is correct to want the best information she can get to make an informed decision. We will certainly share what we have when we have it.
“In my experience, certified planners are typically not engaged until the final approval process. Staff may feel that way too.
“Our intent is to work with everyone,” Bosgraaf said.