Michigan — June 30, 2011 at 10:35 am

Michigan shoreline communities take two more devastating hits


The Lake Michigan shoreline area of Allegan County was dealt a double-whammy this week.

First, Saugatuck Township’s battle against developer Aubrey McClendon to prevent him from building a luxury resort and marina development in the heart of the Sauguatuck Dunes was lost when the Township compromised with him. I have written in the past about this HERE and HERE. From one of those posts:

Aubrey McClendon appears to have powerful, mostly Republican friends. He is supported by the right-wing think tank, The Mackinac Center. Allegan County Clerk Joyce Watts and her Deputy Clerk Julia Ryan are helping him. He’s got Congessman Fred Upton in his corner. Attorney General Bill Schuette is assisting his efforts. A federal judge, Paul Maloney, regularly rules in his favor. Even the head of the MDNRE, Dan Wyatt is weighing in on his behalf.

In the meantime, with these odds and a seemingly endless amount of money stacked against them, Saugatuck Township continues to battle to save the Saugatuck Dunes from the sort of slash and burn development that Aubrey McClendon is well known for. As is often the case, McClendon can lose repeatedly in his efforts and can keep on trying. If the Township loses even once, the Saugatuck Dunes will be forever irreparably impacted to make a very rich man even richer.

David Swan, the President of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, describes the Saugatuck Dunes in this way:

Within the Saugatuck Dunes there are many resources — historical, ecological, cultural, recreational, spiritual and educational. These resources are the pistons of the regional economic engine.

For the sake of our unique and wonderful shoreline, I am fervently hoping Saugatuck Township continues to win.

Well, they didn’t win. They capitulated. This is what “compromise” looks like in Michigan right now:

  • Development in 12 of the 32 acres on the site.
  • Up to 100 units to be built on the shoreline property
  • A 66-slip marina
  • A 25-suite inn
  • A nine-hole golf course

Needless to say, those folks who have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent this devastating outcome are none too happy.

David Swan said a proposed settlement between McClendon and Saugatuck Township essentially gives the billionaire businessman everything he wanted…

“I suspected that Mr. McClendon and his attorneys, Stephen Neumer and James Bruinsma, were trying to get the township behind closed doors and do a closed-doors settlement,” Swan, president of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, which funded part of the township’s legal fight, said Tuesday.

Ah, yes, a closed-door process that lacks transparency and public involvement. How convenient.

The township board will receive public comment on the proposed settlement Monday, July 18, in the Saugatuck High School gymnasium at 6 p.m. That should be an interesting meeting.

I echo David Swan when he says: “I would encourage every citizen with an interest in the future of our community to attend.”

But that’s not all that happened in Allegan County this week. You may recall my writing back in late-April about the possibility that Allegan County may do away with its Planning Commission. I asked some questions in that piece:

The question is why? Why do away with the Planning Commission? Could it be to avoid confrontation with developer and millionaire Aubrey McClendon as he continues his drive to build an extensive development in the Saugatuck Dunes? Could they actually be working in concert with him to help his efforts along?


  1. Will the Board of Commissioners (BoC) amend their agenda and eliminate the Planning Commission tonight as some fear?
  2. Why did the BoC notify only Townships in Allegan County (except for Lee Township for some odd reason) but not the cities or villages about their plans to eliminate the Planning Commission?
  3. Did Aubrey McClendon’s Freedom of Information Act request to the County Planning Commission two years ago (which corresponds with the beginning of discussions about this effort) have anything thing do with the push to eliminate the Planning Commission?
  4. What role does Joyce Watts, the County Clerk whose son works for Aubrey McClendon, have to play in this decision given her position on the BoC?
  5. Why hasn’t the County made any public announcements about this impending and momentous decision, held hearings, or solicited input from County residents?
  6. .Is there a statewide push underway by the Snyder administration and supporters to do away with Planning Commissions across the state to help facilitate development and eliminate the “hurdle” of public review.

Yesterday, by a vote of 6-to-5, the Allegan County Commission decided it is time for the Planning Commission be dissolved.

The Allegan County Planning Commission will disband today (Thursday), June 30, lacking an ordinance that allows it to exist.

Allegan County commissioners voted 6-5 on Thursday, June 23, against passing an ordinance drafted by the county administration that would have reorganized the planning commission under the Planning and Enabling Act 33 of 2008. It replaced previous laws on which the now expired ordinance relied.


[Commissioner Terry] Burns did not like the ordinance, and he said the county board’s failure to keep the planning commission in place was bad for the county. He blamed the failure, in part, on the fact that the entire board had not worked on the ordinance; it had been handled primarily by board’s county services committee—four of whom voted against the final ordinance.

“This turns back the calendar,” Burns said. “Even if the ordinance was voted down, we should’ve had everyone engaged.”

Ah, yes, a closed-door process that lacks transparency and public involvement. How convenient.

By disbanding their Planning Commission, Allegan County no longer has a requirement to have a Master Plan for the development of the county. Without a Master Plan, the skids are greased for willy-nilly unplanned development. It’s a developer’s dream community, right on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan.

We are under assault on all fronts in Michigan these days. I can only hope that we recall or vote enough of the people who are aiding, abetting and participating in this assault in the next few elections that we can begin to slow down the runaway transfer of our public assets to the highest bidder. Or the greediest politicians.

Or both.

  • kirke123

    follow the money. people being greased? maybe a condo for a dollar? follow the money!

  • lansing_biker

    Going to be just like they did to the beach at Frankfort oh so many years ago.  Built condo’s on the beach and ruined the  town.  Used to go there every year until they did that. 

  • Surebert

    Did you know that facebook is selectively blocking this page from being shared. I have tried several times and on another account, to post this information but facebook pops up and says that this article is being blocked by someone who reported it as spam, obscene or racist in content. I filled out their form and sent it in, saying that there is no such content to this article… but I did ‘share’ it from a friends page. LOL I guess they didn’t have it all as covered as they thought. Anyone else wanting to post this to facebook, should do it via the ‘share’ link on your friend’s page rather than from here.

  • Marcia Perry

    As one of the MANY people working to protect the Saugatuck Dunes, I want to clarify that although the Saugatuck Township Board did indeed capitulate to the demands of McClendon by agreeing to sign an outrageous and illegal settlement, the federal judge must approve the consent judgment on the basis of its fairness, reasonableness, whether it is legal and serves the people. Judge Maloney has been petitioned to hold a fairness hearing by four organizations including thr National Trust for Historic Preservation, Kalamazoo River Protection Association,Laketown Alliance for Neighborly Development, Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance) a group of neighbors directly affected by the rezoning described in the settlement deal, and other interested parties.  80% of the people (conservative estimate) have expressed disapproval for the settlement, there remain many questions about the validity of a judicial bypass of public and legislative process. As long as democratic process and the rule of law prevail, the Saugatuck Dunes will have protection from the developmental rape described (but never formally submitted for legal review.) Please keep faith with the power of people standing together to make good things happen.

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