Saugatuck Dunes Development Timeline2018-07-18T21:03:11+00:00

DEVELOPMENT TIMELINE

The grassy dunes between the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan north of Saugatuck has been the site of activity since the early 1800s.

But within the past century, a land use dispute has kindled and continued to flare up as the private property has changed owners with deep pockets and big plans.

Read on through this basic timeline of the property’s history.

1830s

Lumber outpost of Singapore established by New York speculator Oshea Wilder on the north side of the Kalamazoo River at Lake Michigan.

1850

Francis Stockbridge, later a U.S. Senator who helped build the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, buys one of the sawmills in Singapore. Singapore is developed into a hub of activity with two active mills, a harbor full of boats, a store and a bank which printed its own currency.

1871

Wood from Singapore shipped out from the mill to help rebuild Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

1875

Singapore’s main mill moves to St. Ignace – a death knell for the town. Houses are moved into Saugatuck, and what remains is covered by shifting dune sands.

1905

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges a new channel for the Kalamazoo River, dividing the Singapore dunes into two properties with about 260 acres to the north and 160 acres to the south – bordering with what is now Oval Beach.

1945

Chicago businessman David Bennett buys the property.

1949

Bennett reveals offer to donate south section if it, combined with city-owned Oval Beach, became a state park. Offer is denied. He closes public access to his north property.

1953

Bennett dies.

1954

Property sold for $60,000 to yacht builder Franklin Denison and wife Gertrude. They eventually build a boat manufacturing facility on a flat area of the property, adjacent to a boat slip and steel sheet-pile seawall on the river. Yachts are manufactured here from approximately 1982 to 1991.

1989

Franklin’s son, Ken Denison, builds large boat-shaped, shingled mansion with a guest house at the mouth of Kalamazoo River on Lake Michigan. The mansion was built just before the Michigan Dunes Protection Act was passed, allowing it to be closer to the lake than the law now permits.

1996

City of Saugatuck tries to buy southern 160 acres near Oval Beach; deal with Denisons later falls apart.

1998

State DNR seeks 420-acre Denison property to link Saugatuck Dunes State Park and Oval Beach. Franklin Denison wants land to be used for park, but family wrangling ends discussion.

2000

Franklin Denison dies. The more than 400-acre Denison land becomes available for purchase and the negotiations on behalf of the public begin.

2002

City and state pursue property, but legal issue with estate prevents purchase.

2006

Oklahoma billionaire Aubrey McClendon buys property for $39.5 million after consortium of local business leaders and conservation groups unable to make deal. Conservation groups hope to convince McClendon to sell area south of Kalamazoo River.

McClendon, who first spotted the property while riding his Ski-doo along Lake Michigan from St. Joseph, proposes a series of development proposals for the property, including a marina, golf course, stables and shooting range.

2009

McClendon drops asking price for the land south of the Kalamazoo River by $1 million, to $19 million, to help Land Conservancy of West Michigan obtain the property.

The Land Conservancy closes the deal to purchase the property south of the Kalamazoo River — what is now the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.

2013

McClendon, who has never lived in the Denison house, lists the house and 6 acres of property for sale for $10 million.

2014

McClendon dies in a fiery crash in Oklahoma, one day after being indicted for rigging bids for oil and natural gas leases in Oklahoma.

April 2016

McClendon’s entire property listed for sale for $40 million.

December 2016

NorthShore of Saugatuck, a limited liability company registered to Jeff Padnos, purchases the McClendon property except for the boat-shaped house and another private residence. The owners are working with Cottage Home, a Holland-based developer.

April 2017

Saugatuck Township’s planning commission gives approval April 26 for special land use for the boat basin – which was required only because the developer is proposing boat slips for users others than immediate residents. That approval is contingent on the developer gaining other permits that have to undergo more rigorous review.

The planning commission also approved the preliminary site condo and planned use development zoning requests that have a number of contingencies attached. The planning commission still has to give its approval to the final version of the site condo zoning request.

Plans filed show 23 home sites proposed around a 1,500-foot-long boat basin, seven homes fronting Lake Michigan and eight homes along the Kalamazoo River.

Among the conditions: both Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will need to sign off on a joint permit for the marina. That application has not yet been filed.