DEQ holds public hearing on Saugatuck dune development

SAUGATUCK, Mich. -- It's an issue in Saugatuck that has had some residents up in arms for quite some time: a proposal to build 23 homes and a private boat marina on pristine dune land along Lake Michigan.

On Tuesday, a public hearing was held by the Department of Environmental Quality at Saugatuck High School.  No decisions about the proposal were made at the meeting, but residents were able to share their comments and concerns.

The location in question is the old Denison property, 300 acres near the Saugatuck Dunes State Park that once belonged to oil tycoon Aubrey McClendon.  He proposed a large development there that never materialized.  McClendon died in 2016.

The new owners, Jeff Padnos and development company Cottage Home, are moving ahead with plans for a large-scale development.

Many residents are concerned about the project's environmental impact, and want to preserve any natural resources.  One resident tells FOX 17 there's an alternative plan that could work for everyone: not building the marina but rather putting boat slips in the river.

"We're trying to get the property owner to recognize that there's a prudent and feasible alternative," said David Swan, president of Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance. "They don't need the marina to make the money. They can put slips in the river and that's within zoning and that would be appropriate. I'd prefer that it was not built on, but I'm willing to negotiate here."

Meanwhile, those behind the project say they're doing their best to work with residents concerned about the dunes.  They claim the project is conservation-based.

"We tried to find a balance to bring some new tax base, new owners that'll be coming in the property that will be able to spend money locally, so we get overriding support when I'm around town," said Brian Bosgraaf, president and designer of Cottage Home. "We are preserving the best of the land and over two thirds of the land and using the area that's suitable for use in the small cluster zoning."

The project has already gained approval from the township but requires two permits to move forward: one from the Army Corps of Engineers and one from the DEQ.

Public comment is open for 10 days. After that, it's in the DEQ's hands.

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