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Controversial Saugatuck development gets approval from Planning Commission

By Jake Allen/The Holland Sentinel • Oct 24, 2017 at 10:19 PM

SAUGATUCK TWP. — The controversial NorthShores of Saugatuck development cleared another hurdle as residents once again voiced their opposition this week.

The Saugatuck Township Planning Commission gave its blessing Monday night of the development after a four-hour meeting in which 15 people spoke out against it.

“It’s well documented this area is special. It’s unique and the development would take away from that,” said Laurie Goshorn, who has lived in Saugatuck for six years and spoke during public comment time at the meeting.

Goshorn has been a board member with the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance for three years. The development has been strongly opposed by the SDCA since its inception and about 15 different community members spoke against the development during public comment.

NorthShores of Saugatuck is on a 300-acre property sitting in between Saugatuck Dunes State Park and the Kalamazoo River. Proposed are homesites around a 1,500-foot boat basin, seven homes along Lake Michigan and eight homes along the Kalamazoo River.

Goshorn said the SDCA and community members have suggested a development with fewer houses, farther away from the water and without a boat basin.

Carl Gabrielse, an attorney representing NorthShores of Saugatuck, said it was time for the commission to make a decision. He said the development was unique, but many unique hearings have already been held to discuss the development.

Gabrielse said it would have been unfair to the developers to delay action any further.

The boat basin has been the largest source of contention, with pushback from the coastal alliance and other affiliated groups looking to protect the dunes. Excavation of 241,750 cubic yards of sand is required for the 1,600-foot long, 200-foot-wide boat basin.

Brian Bosgraaf, president and designer for Cottage Home, told The Sentinel the basin will not negatively impact natural features.

“This isn’t any wetland — we’re not degrading any natural features,” he said. “As far as regulatory policies go, it’s a net positive because you’re actually creating more water and more water habitat.”

A condition requiring a performance bond or irrevocable letter of credit for the reconstruction of the extracted basin if left incomplete was added as basis for the planning commission’s approval. The amount of the performance bond or irrevocable letter of credit is yet to be set.

Last week, about 150 people attended a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hearing to gather comments on the development. The MDEQ did not make its decision on the development at the hearing. If the MDEQ requires changes to the development plans, those changes will have to be approved by the township planning commission, most likely via an amendment to Monday’s approval.

The SDCA has also filed an appeal in the Allegan County Circuit alleging the township did not follow its own zoning ordinance when it gave preliminary approval for the development. No decision in the circuit court has been made yet regarding the appeal and members of the SDCA were unsure when a decision may come.

“My biggest problem is that it flies in the face of community members, who have worked for years to conserve this area,” Goshorn said. “This is our community, conserving it is how we keep it alive. This will be a nightmare of untold proportions for all the reasons brought up.”

Members of the community opposed to the development expressed concerns of the new boat basin negatively impacting charter boating and other businesses in the Saugatuck area and the development taking away from the natural beauty of the Saugatuck Dunes during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Gabrielse said the development meets the township’s requirements therefore there was no reason for it not pass the planning commission.

After the decision, the planning commission tabled the rest of the items on the evening’s agenda and adjourned the meeting immediately.

The MDEQ is considering two permits: one for the boat basin, which also needs to be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and one for a road that will surround the basin, a community building, viewing platform and boat sheds.

Comments can still be filed on or before Oct. 27. Those who still wish to provide comments to the MDEQ can send them to the state agency’s Water Resources Division, Kalamazoo District Office, 7953 Adobe Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49009; or via email to bayhaj@michigan.gov.

The MDEQ says it will make its decision on the permits by Nov. 5.

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