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Saugatuck Township accepts settlement over dune land

Saugatuck Township officials have agreed to settle a land-use case with a billionaire who’s trying develop property along Lake Michigan. Saugatuck Township voted Friday night to accept a legal settlementwith Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon. The proposal settles a land-use dispute between the two.

McClendon had argued Saugatuck Township officials unfairly singled him out because any development on his 300 acres required special zoning permits. He sued them in federal court in March of 2010.

Saugatuck resident and businessman Larry Hamlin is happy about the deal. He says people against it have to realize private property owners have rights. 

“(McClendon) doesn’t just own any piece of property in the township; he owns one of the most expensive pieces of property. And we have to respect that. What he’s going to do there, it’s going to bring more people into the community. That will benefit all of us.”

Hamlin would rather see the township board make the decision, rather than a federal judge.

More than 400 people came to watch the hearing. Several begged the township board to negotiate a new deal with a neutral mediator, delay their decision, and even offer to buy the property.

After a 4-hour-long hearing, the township board voted unanimously to accept the proposed settlement. Among the angry faces, Paula Staring burst into tears.

“You always like to think that the little person has a voice and I thought we actually had a chance at this one.”

Staring is away at college now, but grew up in Saugatuck. She’s afraid when she has kids, she won’t be able to show them the dunes she knew.

“Just the natural pureness of everything and it feels like; that’s something that shouldn’t be stripped away and I feel like tonight it was.”

A federal judge will have to approve the settlement. That process is expected to begin next week.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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