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Public asks state to reject development plans, consider buying dune land in Saugatuck

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Many people are asking the state to consider paying millions of dollars for a few hundred acres of land in Saugatuck. The land is sandwiched between Saugatuck State Park and a nearly 200-acre nature preserve.

Community leaders tried to buy the property a few years ago. They were outbid by a wealthy businessman. After a years-long legal battle over development rights, the property was listed for sale this month.

But the developer is still asking the state for a permit to allow him to build a two-mile-long access road to a proposed sub-division. The proposed road would have to go through part of the dune land for safety reasons, representatives for the developer said.

Frank Alfieri summed up the majority of the public comments at a hearing last night.

“It is my opinion that the proposed permit is yet another example of poor stewardship of the dunes. It demonstrates the need for the public to acquire this property. I ask you to deny it and buy it,” Alfieri said.

Representative from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality said they don't have the authority to make an offer on the property. They also said they have to make a decision on the permit within a three month period, regardless of whether the property sells.

Patty Birkholtz is former Republican lawmaker who currently serves as the West Michigan Director of the League of Conservation voters. As a long time Saugatuck resident, she says she’s been fielding a lot of calls at the office and at her home about the potential purchase of the property in order to turn it over to the public in some way. 

“Where are there some big pots of money? That’s part of the challenge right now,” Birkholtz said. She declined to say anything more specific about the discussions.

A couple of years ago federal and state grant dollars were used, along with donations from hundreds of individuals, to buy 173 acres from the same property owner for $22 million. That land was turned into a nature preserve.

The asking price for this 310-acre parcel is almost $40 million.

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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