Yesterday the Coastal Alliance appealed to Allegan County Circuit Court to overturn the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission’s preliminary approval of the Padnos proposed marina resort. The filing cites multiple violations of both the approval process and township zoning ordinance requirements.

Coastal Alliance board member and Township resident, Jon Helmrich said, ‘We were disappointed the Planning Commission’s preliminary approval was procedurally deficient to such an extent that the written decision did not even include any findings of fact–something required by state law for all approvals. We are appealing so the Planning Commission can correct the various mistakes.’

The Coastal Alliance contends that the planning commission approved an insufficient preliminary plan despite strong public opposition, independent legal opinions pointing out the marina development plan’s conflicts with the township’s zoning code, and absent the requested and necessary expertise of a planning consultant.

The Planning Commission’s preliminary approval violated several zoning ordinances including: waterfront anti-funneling and density laws, laws against excavating existing channels to increase water frontage, laws pertaining to the removal of 160,000 tons of sand within Michigan’s critical dune boundaries, and multiple inconsistencies with the 2016 Tri-Community Master Plan created by the City of Saugatuck, Saugatuck Township, and the City of the Village of Douglas. The Master Plan prioritizes protection of the natural environment when making future land use decisions along the Lake Michigan and Kalamazoo River waterfronts.

The property, 300 acres between Saugatuck Dunes State Park and the Kalamazoo River, has been the subject of multiple lawsuits during the past twelve years following the deaths of longtime owners Frank and Gertrude Denison. Aubrey McClendon, whose estate sold the property in January to the Holland couple, Jeff and Peg Padnos, filed several lawsuits against Saugatuck Township during the decade he owned the property.

The property has also been the intense focus of regional conservation interests for decades. In 2012 locals paid $20 million for the 177-areas Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area immediately across the river from the Padnos proposed marina resort.

Recognizing the legal complexities of the property, two Planning Commissioners requested additional planning expertise and guidance during deliberations on the Padnos proposed marina resort, but no action was taken prior to the preliminary approval now being appealed.

Life-long area resident and realtor Liz Engel reacted to news of the proposed Padnos marina by saying, ‘As a boater I have safety concerns with any marina that would add nearly 50 additional docks large enough to accommodate 150’ yachts, all entering the river at the busiest and one of the narrowest points at the river mouth. One, it is against local zoning and unfair to other residents and businesses, and two, it could be very dangerous to other boaters.’

“The importance of how this property is developed cannot be underestimated. The harbor mouth and coastal duneland have been deemed essential to our community’s identity and continued prosperity,” said Coastal Alliance president, David Swan. The Tri-Community Master Plan states “Public acquisition of the Denison property on both sides of the Kalamazoo River is the top priority for the Tri-Communities.” That updated Master Plan was unanimously approved last year by Saugatuck City Council, Douglas City Council, and the Saugatuck Township Board.

The Coastal Alliance also issued the following statement:

“While continuing to work to enforce locally-determined zoning and our Master Plan, the Coastal Alliance remains committed to encouraging the property owner to respect our community’s long history of conservation. Specifically, we are asking owners Jeff and Peg Padnos to please consider a legacy that includes:

1. Allowing the Community/Region to purchase development rights to preserve important viewsheds and historic sites, and to protect the wetlands and other vital habitat
2. Working with the scientists who have studied the Saugatuck Dunes for decades and a Conservation Design team to protect our Community investments, as well as their own
3. Being open to finding a development solution that balances their need for a Return on Investment and our need to protect our Community Values as articulated in the Tri-Community Master Plan of Saugatuck, Douglas, and Saugatuck Township.”

The Coastal Alliance will also be hosting a workshop where community members can discuss the many issues that have faced the Saugatuck Dunes on Tuesday, June 27th at 7PM at Saugatuck High School.