More than 100 people appealed Wednesday to the Planning Commission in Saugatuck to reject a request from David Barker to establish eight home sites on a 22-acre portion of the 130-acre Presbyterian Camps property on Lake Michigan.
"This is a precious place. This is a place of quiet, a place for reflection. For some, it's a place of refuge," said Sue Goll, of Naperville, Ill., whose two sons were campers and later became counselors there.
Barker agreed to buy the campground from the Presbytery of Chicago for $10 million and is asking for a special land use for the 22-acre section. After nearly three hours of debate, commissioners postponed a vote on the request until Oct. 24.
Barker initially proposed 12 single family home sites on 2 acres each that could sell for up to $2 million each. He later removed four of those sites from the application because they are under review by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
"The proposed use is far less intensive, from a land use perspective and environmental impact perspective, than what is there now," said Matt Zimmerman, Barker's attorney.
The camp, which has cabins, platform tents, storage buildings and a dining hall, was founded in 1899. It typically houses about 200 campers a week. The Presbytery of Chicago owned it since 1921 and announced in 2009 that it planned to sell the site to help cover debts.
In addition to eight proposed home sites, Barker wants to build private access roads to serve the home sites, as well as water, sewer and utility services. He also has proposed a pedestrian pathway connecting the development to nearby Oval Beach.
Some opponents of the project worry there may be additional future development on the site.
"You have to look at the total package, not just those 22 acres and eight pieces of property," nearby resident Kathy Sarkisian said. "I'm not against development, but I'm against development of this piece, because of its uniqueness — its wildlife, its flora and fauna."
Barker has made no decision on the remaining portion of the camp, Zimmerman said. The property is zoned for conservation, recreation and camp use, according to the city, but allows for single-family homes to be built under a special land use.
"The applicant simply doesn't know what he might do with the rest of the acreage," Zimmerman said.