Saugatuck residents hope for resolution with developer in dunes case

Mar 5, 2012

Some people in Saugatuck Township are pushing township officials to review its zoning laws to resolve an expensive legal case with a private developer.

Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon owns more than 300 acres in the township, including coastal dune land along Lake Michigan. McClendon says Saugatuck Township officials adopted unfairly restrictive zoning laws for his property.

About 100 people turned out at a meeting Monday night hosted by the non-profit Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance. The group wants the township to publicly review the restrictive zoning law that caused McClendon to sue the township.

David Swan is president of the SDCA. He hopes that review could resolve the developer’s federal lawsuit against the township.

“If Mr. McClendon is unhappy with the zoning then let’s follow the public planning process. Give him a chance. Give the community a chance. Let us come to an agreement,” Swan said.

A judge rejected a proposed settlement between the township and the developer in November that would’ve allowed some development on the property (much of it would not have been allowed under zoning laws, part of the reason the judge rejected the settlement).

The township and McClendon could submit a new settlement. But many residents, like Steve Darpel, will ask the township to simply review the restrictive zoning laws.

“The zoning issues should be discussed in a public forum not just decided by lawyers behind closed doors,” Darpel said.

Roy McIlwaine can see the McClendon property from his. He says the natural dunes are important, but for him, this is mostly an issue of property rights. “If you’re a property owner in this township you’ve got to be concerned that no one should be able to come in and get special treatment,” McIlaine said. He says drafting another proposed settlement would ignore the public process that he says would be quicker, cheaper and more fair option.

Darpel and others plan to make the request at a township meeting later this week.