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Saugatuck Twp considers new settlement with developer over dune land

Lawyers for Saugatuck Township have reached an agreement to resolvean expensive legal case with a private developer. The case is between the township and a billionaire who owns about 300 acres of property.

The land in dispute includes natural dunes on the Lake Michigan shore. The developer says the township has unfairly restrictive zoning laws for his property. The proposed settlement would reverse to the original zoning that’s less restrictive.

Under the plan, the developer would ask for a zoning variance from the zoning board of appeals. The township’s attorney Ron Bultje says the developer may ask for a variance “to essentially develop the property in the manner that was shown on the development plan last summer.” That plan included a marina and a hotel.

The township will hold a public hearing on the proposed agreement next week.

“I think the real controversy will be in front of the board of appeals,” Bultje said.

“I believe their minds are made up,” David Swan, President of the Saugatuck Coast Dunes Alliance, said of the proposed agreement. He wouldn’t comment on the substance of the plan yet because their attorney hasn’t had a chance to thoroughly review the 45 page document. But he still takes issue with the process of lawyers coming up with an agreement in private. “This is a result of a back room deal where the public has been closed out of this,” Swan said.

Stephen Nuemer is the property manager for Singapore Dunes LLC. He says the proposed deal follows what citizens have been demanding lately; namely that the township reverse what the developer sees as unfairly restrictive zoning.

“Then we come back to a township institution like any other property owner and say ‘may I please?’ That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Nuemer said.

But first the township board would have to approve the proposed settlement. A public hearing is set for March 21st. Then a federal judge would need to approve the settlement too. The judge rejected the last settlementin November.

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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