What development is being proposed at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River?

cottage home marina developmentThe Padnos/Bosgraaf/Cottage Home development team has proposed for the north side of the Historic River Mouth Neighborhood:

  • A 1600’ long, 200’ wide, 18’ deep marina for 50 boats
    • Excavated through the buried village of Singapore and nearly completely surrounded by publicly-funded Natural Areas that protect the globally-imperiled interdunal wetlands
  • 8 houses lining the north-side of the channel directly facing the $20 million Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area 
    • Shortly after the State of Michigan granted $10 million to help with the purchase the Natural Resources Trust Fund Chair, Lana Pollack, wrote regarding a similar marina proposal, “If completed, the proposed development’s impact on MNRTF’s investment of $10.5 million still leaves me concerned that our public investment may become mostly the enhanced viewshed for a commercial development.”
  • 7 houses facing the beach
  • A cluster of 4-6 houses above Dugout Road, near Hawk’s Nest

Why is the proposed development bad?

We will list 9 reasons.

  1. The proposed marina violates local zoning that clearly states,
“In no event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing the water frontage required by this section.”
  1. The proposed marina violates state law regulating sand-dune mining. In 1998 Michigan outlawed the removal of 3,000 tons sand within the critical dune boundary for a commercial purpose. The proposed marina calls for the removal of 200,000 tons of sand for a very commercial purpose – a marina.
  1. The proposed marina ignores our unanimously approved Master Plan that states, “The NW corner of the Township, along with most of the land in Saugatuck west of the Kalamazoo Lake should be preserved for public open space and the portion that remains in private ownership should be maintained for low intensity uses (like the art colony and church camp.)”
  1. The proposed marina and houses along the channel will diminish the $20 million investment our community made in the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area. The houses will destroy the viewshed we’ve invested tens of millions of dollars protecting.
  1. According to a group of scientists who have studied the Saugatuck Dunes for decades, the proposed marina puts at risk the globally imperiled interdunal wetlands that are a vital component of a healthy dunes ecosystem. The marina will also create habitat fragmentation.
  1. The proposed marina puts at risk the endangered lake sturgeon, according to biologists at the Gun Lake Tribe who oversee the Kalamazoo River Lake Sturgeon Restoration project.
  1. The proposed marina will destroy the historic site of Singapore. This is why the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the Saugatuck Dunes one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places.
  1. The proposed marina will add 50 large boats, between 80’ and 120’ in length, at the most congested part of the river mouth. According to several commercial boat captains working out of Saugatuck Harbor the proposed marina will create a navigational hazard.
  1. There are prudent and feasible alternatives to placing a marina at the river mouth. Tower Marine is for sale and is the best place for commercial development of this scale. Having boaters close to downtown will drive the local economy.

Why didn’t the Coastal Alliance buy the property?

The Padnos/Bosgraaf development team has recently been deflecting charges that they knowingly disrupted the local sixty-year effort to protect the Saugatuck Dunes by claiming there was no realistic offer with specific backing from the conservation community.  This is at best a false claim.

It is worth pointing out that Stephen Neumer, the project manager for Aubrey McClendon’s proposed marina resort, implied the same claim when McClendon disrupted a local philanthropist’s offer to buy the entire Denison property.

The most recent negotiations to acquire the North Denison, following the sudden death of Aubrey McClendon in March 2016, on behalf of a conservation/recreation/education partnership were strictly confidential. Participants in that public/private partnership are able to provide the following quote: “We understand that The Conservation Fund worked for over 4 years to structure a purchase on behalf of conservation and education partners and submitted several written offers including this last round, but it was rejected.”

Phil Miller, the Saugatuck resident who led the local effort on behalf of the City of Saugatuck to acquire the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, was also deeply involved in the most recent efforts to acquire the North Denison. Phil has said, ‘We were fortunate to work with the Conservation Fund as they agreed to help with bridge funding while we were quietly building donor support. Had the cloak of confidentiality been lifted we would now be in the planning process with a conservation designer.

We are all deeply disappointed that the last offer was not accepted. Adding the North Denison as a center for public recreation and education to our already protected dunes and lakeshore would have completed a sixty-year effort. I remain committed to local efforts to acquire development rights where the current owners and non-profit organizations have common ground to ensure that development does not infringe upon the investment in and the enjoyment of the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.’

The Coastal Alliance, the local non-profit who formed in 2007 to advocate for the implementation of the area’s Master Plan, submitted a pledge letter for $1 million toward the most recent effort to acquire the North Denison. The Coastal Alliance was also in a position to double that amount if other funders also increased their contribution. As David Swan, President of the Coastal Alliance, emphasized, ‘It cannot be overstated that the cloak of confidentiality required by the McClendon team thwarted, knowingly thwarted, the conservation effort.’

Swan went on to add, ‘the question that should be asked is: why would Padnos/Bosgraaf, who knew of the local/regional effort to acquire this land, not make an effort to work with those who have invested tens of millions of dollars in the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, Tallmadge Woods, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, and other important parks in the Saugatuck Dunes to find a balanced development solution that minimizes the impact on those investments?’

For context it is important for readers to understand that there has been a steady effort spanning decades to acquire segments of the Saugatuck Dunes. It is actually written into the area Master Plan. That is not an idle comment, but a strategic priority written into the community’s guiding land-use document. In fact, the Tri-Community Master Plan, first published in 2005 and revised in 2016, clearly states, “Public acquisition of the property on both sides of the Kalamazoo River is the top priority for the Tri-Communities.” The Master Plan was unanimously approved by Saugatuck City Council, Douglas City Council, and the Saugatuck Township Board as recently as 2016.

Several Conservancy organizations have played vital roles at points during the past several decades in helping the Saugatuck community acquire lands: The Conservation Fund, The Land Conservancy of West Michigan, and The Nature Conservancy. The City of Saugatuck, home-owners associations, non-profits, and individuals have worked primarily with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan to protect the dunes, beaches, forests, and river frontage that drive the area’s booming tourist-based economy.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund made their largest grant ever of $10.5 million for the purchase of the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area. The Trust Fund was also interested in seeing the North Denison protected. In 2014, the DNR put forth a proposal to the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board to acquire a small slice of the property along the State Park boundary. One of McClendon’s lawyers notified the Trust Fund Board that the land was no longer available just the day before the Trust Fund meeting to discuss the grants in December 2014.

Haven’t the permits been issued

The development can construct a road and the lots have been permitted.

Each individual house must apply for a critical dune permit and must not impact, indirectly or directly, the globally-imperiled interdunal wetlands.

The proposed marina has not yet received the necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. There are 20 factors the Army Corps must consider before granting the necessary permits. The Gun Lake Tribe of the Pottawatomie, the Huron Band of the Potawatomie, and the Pokagon Band have all voiced opposition to the proposed marina. 

The Coastal Alliance has appealed the local Planning Commission approval. The Coastal Alliance has also appealed the DEQ permit. Both the Planning Commission and DEQ permits are contingent upon the Army Corps granting the permits.

It looks like construction has already started. Why?

The property owner has removed the invasive Austrian Pines that used to surround the old Broward Boat Yard site. 

The property owner has also started construction on a road that would go around the proposed marina.

The house being built north of the river mouth appears to be a spec house. It is our understanding that zero lots have been sold. It is unfortunate that the spec house is so out-of-scale that it blocks the viewshed from the $20 million Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area and the Patty Birkholz Natural Area. If this is an example of the “sensitive” style of home Bosgraff intends to build, it does not bode well.

Doesn’t the Padnos family have private property rights though?

Current zoning and state laws forbid what is being proposed.

Private property rights do not allow a property owner to violate local zoning and state laws. Property owners in every community have a responsibility to adhere to local zoning. Local zoning helps make livable communities, a stronger economy, and a better quality of life.

It is disappointing that members of the Padnos and Bosgraaf families disregard our locals and disrespect the community values articulated in our Master Plan.

Wouldn’t a new development build the local tax base helping Saugatuck Public Schools?

Yes and No. Since Saugatuck Public Schools is already a “donor district,” any taxes collected from any proposed development would have absolutely no effect on the amount of operating expenses the District receives per pupil from the State of Michigan Department of Education. Adding more houses or businesses in our community will not increase the amount of money our local school district receives per student. Nor will our school district lose operational monies if the North Shore of Saugatuck is not developed.  

However, taxes on the North Shore of Saugatuck do help reduce the Debt Retirement fund that pays for the debt owed for building construction projects.  Please note that because of state law, school districts cannot use monies designated for facilities on anything except building facilities. These funds cannot be spent on students, operating expenses, or teacher salaries.

Won’t this proposed development bring more jobs to Saugatuck?

This development will only bring jobs during the construction phase and perhaps some low-paying seasonal service jobs. While it is being called a “marina” in truth there won’t be any services available to the yachts. The development will not substantially affect job creation in the Saugatuck/Douglas area.  

Real job creation comes from creating access to our great lake. Read this from “Michigan Blue Economy”.

Michigan Blue Economy Report

“In a global economy where educated talented people, professionals and entrepreneurs can choose where they want to live and work, factors such as quality of life, amenities, and lifestyle have grown in their importance. Access to, and enjoyment of, water is a key locational asset. There is only so much waterfront real estate, and Michigan’s 3,000-plus miles of Great Lakes freshwater coast; 11,000 inland lakes; hundreds of rivers; and numerous coastal and inland wetlands make it a beautiful, magical place to live and work: if the water is clean, and the lakes and beaches, are accessible. People like to live, work, and play near water; to sit at a restaurant, watch birds, fish, swim, boat, enjoy a sunrise, or sunset over water. This is all possible if there is public access, if the water is clean, if we remove the slag piles, and rusting factories, and allow for beaches, parks and wetlands to be protected, improved and expanded…”

When precious resources such as the Saugatuck Dunes are “walled off” to the public, available only to the few “high-income property owners” (Mr. Padnos’ exact words) enough to purchase a multi-million dollar home, there is a dampening effect on tourist dollars.

There was already development on the north side of the river with a house, road, and Broward Marine, so why not build there now?
Contrary to public perception, the overwhelming majority of the former Denison North property is still undeveloped and features many of the same rare habitats, endangered species, and critical dunes found in the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area to the south and the Patricia Birkholz Natural Area to the north.

Broward Marine built 57 yachts between 1982-1998, however this land was not zoned commercial during that time. Frank Denison was given a special use permit in 1977 with many restrictions on how he could use his land for a boat building operation.  Despite the name, Broward Marine only constructed boats; it was never an operational marina.  After Broward Marine moved their operations to Dana, Florida, the Denison boat barn was classified as a commercial building for two years to be used only as a boat repair operation. With the boat barn removed, the area is now classified and zoned as residential only. It remains to be seen what industrial wastes were left or buried on the Broward Marine property.

Where are the critical dunes in the Historic River Mouth Neighborhood?

See the map to the right.

Where are the interdunal wetlands in the Historic River Mouth Neighborhood?

See the map to the right.

How long has there been interest in protecting the Saugatuck Dunes from out-of-scale development?

60 years. Click here for our Sixty-Year Effort to Expand Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Won’t there be additional congestion at the river mouth?

The proposed Padnos Marina is against local zoning laws that were written to protect residents and visitors from having too many boats competing for space on the water. That is why several commercial passenger vessels, vessels that require annual Coast Guard certification, vessels that require a special license have joined our appeal to the Appellate Court.

Adding three times the legal limit of boats at any point along the river is unsafe and against local zoning.

Allegan County Marine division has worries about the added congestion and the threat to navigation safety that more and bigger boats will mean. However, they are short staffed due to funding cuts and will only be able to assist with accidents after they occur, and only on the days they patrol the river mouth.

Isn’t the buried town of Singapore part of this property?


The map to the right shows the proposed development overlaying a map of the historic town of Singapore

How can I view the property for myself?

If you want to see the Padnos/North Shore property yourself, park at Oval Beach and hike north 3/4 of a mile along the beach to the pier. When you reach the pier, hike east along the river. Everything immediately to the north across the river is the Padnos/North Shore property.

The other land access point is to hike to the beach at the Saugatuck Dunes State Park via the Livingston or South Trails and continue south along the beach to the pier. It is within your rights to walk on the beach; however, please stay off any private property.

In the late spring, summer, and early fall, you can take a tour on the Star of Saugatuck or the Saugatuck Dune Rides. While neither of these will put you on the property, both offer remarkable views and informative commentary about the natural and human history of the area.

saugatuck dunes contourCritical Dunes ~ click to see larger

Wetlands Map ~ click to see larger

saugatuck harbor plan

Proposed development overlaying a map of the historic town of Singapore