Castle Dunes LLC is proposing to develop more than 200 acres of reclaimed sand mining land in Norton Shores near Muskegon. The company has a purchase agreement to buy the land from the Nugent Sand Company.
A public hearing is being held today to begin the zoning process at the Norton Shores Planning Commission meeting (tonight at 5:30pm in the community room of the Norton Shores Branch Library at 705 Seminole).
The company wants to build single family properties and condominiums around a man-made lake.
That lake was created by mining the sand from the dunes. It turned out to be a major problem for a previous developer when the water levels in the lake rose.
David Stebbins is the project manager for Castle Dunes. He says that project got stalled partly because of public opposition.
“It was the idea of trying to draw that lake level back down and control it with a vent pipe out to Lake Michigan and that wasn’t a real popular idea with the local community and environmentalists, so what we’ve done is redesigned the project to work with the higher lake levels,” he says.
But there’s another element of the project that might upset some environmentalists.
Stebbins says about three percent of the project would be built on a critical dune area. Those are areas the state considers to be the most unique and fragile dunes. Castle Dunes will need a state permit before building on them.
The law protecting critical dunes was amended last summer.
Nicholas Occhipinti is the policy director at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. He says the changes made it easier to build roads and driveways in critical dune areas.
“What that does is it opens up areas that previously weren’t developable, to development. So maybe there was for example, on top of a dune, a nice flat area that was not accessible because you were not allowed to build a driveway or road access up to it, but now it is because that law’s been changed,” he says.
He says it can be possible to build in a sustainable way, but he’s concerned that more development of these areas will lead to a loss of critical dune habitat.