See also: Timeline
Coastal Alliance Position
Establishing the Facts
April 19, 2011
For more than sixty years, the State of Michigan, the U.S. National Park Service, and regional business leaders have sought to protect the Saugatuck Dunes giving special attention to the Denison property at the harbor mouth of the Kalamazoo River. Efforts were made over the years to purchase this property with the aim of keeping it in the public trust. Most recently, in 2004, philanthropists and regional business leaders sought to purchase the property to ensure an unbroken natural shoreline connecting Oval Beach with the Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
While the preference of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance is to maintain this unbroken natural shoreline, we recognize that Mr. McClendon's purchase of the Denison property in 2006 gives him the right to develop the property in conformity with community zoning laws and the Tri-Community Master Plan. This Master Plan reflects a community vision for long term economic and sustainable development, and it was established during a multi-year, broad-based, participatory community planning process beginning in 2003.
Now Mr. McClendon claims, in a federal lawsuit, that the zoning of his property north of the harbor mouth is invalid because the zoning process was manipulated to thwart his development objectives. The truth is that the 2006 zoning decisions that apply to Mr. McClendon's property and to several other properties in the Tri-Community Area were adopted by the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission, the Saugatuck Township Board and the Allegan County Planning Commission in a straightforward implementation of zoning change recommendations that had already been agreed to as part of the Master Plan.
These Master Plan recommendations had already been formulated and were in the process of being finalized before anyone involved in the master planning process knew of Mr. McClendon's interest in the Denison property. Mr. McClendon's advisors were almost certainly aware of Master Plan proposals to revise the zoning of the Denison property at the time he purchased a partial option on the property. Furthermore, recommendations to adopt zoning revisions that would affect development on the property were already published and in the public domain before Mr. McClendon actually purchased the property.
The commercial development plan presented by Mr. McClendon's attorney, which includes a nine-story hotel, a marina and a golf course, would not have been permitted even under the zoning laws in place before the 2006 zoning revisions. It therefore appears to the Alliance that the purpose of Mr. McClendon's federal lawsuit is an attempt to nullify all zoning restrictions on the site in order to pave the way for commercial developments that are incompatible with both the present and the past zoning of this property. It appears further that the real purpose of Mr. McClendon's lawsuits is to discourage public participation, discredit local community leaders, bankrupt our local government, and thereby drive behind closed doors all future Township permitting processes affecting Mr. McClendon's properties.
A closed-door planning and permitting process violates established local procedures. It is the wrong way to review any proposed development. What is called for is not a federal lawsuit, but an open discussion of development proposals and how they relate to the community's needs and plans, not just Mr. McClendon's.
The irreplaceable stretch of scenic natural Lake Michigan shoreline is one of our community's most valuable assets. The Tri-Community Master Plan is in alignment with State and Federal guidelines to protect the Lake Michigan shoreline. Over several generations we have successfully protected our area's uncommon natural and historic resources, and doing so has made an important contribution to shaping the special character of Saugatuck-Douglas. The economic and sustainable development strategy of the Tri-Community Master Plan has helped us become one of the few Michigan communities that has continued to thrive in this down economy. Mr. McClendon's stated development plans for the Kalamazoo River harbor mouth, if implemented, will damage our unique natural coastline, will alter the character of our community, and will undercut the business model that has allowed our community to prosper.
The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance recognizes Mr. McClendon's right to develop the property he owns in conformity with applicable zoning laws and our community's democratically approved Tri-Community Master Plan. We urge him to drop his federal lawsuit and engage our community in open and transparent discussions.
The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance Board of Directors