Billionaire Wants to Develop Dunes

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

The billionaire co-owner of the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics has come up with a new game plan for his planned development of 412 acres of nearly untouched Lake Michigan dune property that he owns.
At the request of a lawyer representing Aubrey McClendon, the Saugatuck Township Board of Trustees on Wednesday agreed to indefinitely table a zoning deal proposed by Saugatuck LLC, a development company set up by McClendon.
McClendon, a co-founder of a natural gas company and one of several Oklahoma businessmen who bought the Sonics in 2006, wants to build multimillion-dollar homes on the Allegan County dunes that environmentalists have fought for years to preserve.
Under the agreement, Saugatuck LLC would have agreed not to go forward with two legal actions against the township in return for rezoning the property to allow more housing.
McClendon had threatened a tax tribunal case, saying the tax assessment on the property, for which he paid $39.5 million in 2006, was too high. He also threatened a lawsuit alleging that he was not given proper notice of a zoning change that reduced the number of homes that could be built on the land, lowering its value.
The current zoning requires a minimum lot size of five acres per unit, which would limit the number of homes that could be built at about 80. The proposed agreement would have, for one year, re-established the original zoning and allowed 250 to 265 homes on the property.
The board tabled the agreement at its Dec. 19 meeting after about 30 visitors spoke out against it. Some trustees said they needed more time to review the terms.
At Wednesday's meeting, it was Grand Rapids lawyer James Bruinsma asking on behalf of McClendon that the settlement be tabled. He said there would be no threat of a tax tribunal case or lawsuit for the next year.
"We are working hard to be thoughtful and responsible new stewards of this special land," Bruinsma said. "We respect the history and beauty of this unique property and the community of Saugatuck. We are confident that once we share our plan with the community -- something we expect to do this spring -- the majority of you will recognize and appreciate our commitment."
After hearing more public comment, the board granted the request and indefinitely tabled the settlement.
Stephen Neumer, another lawyer for McClendon, told the trustees at last month's meeting that his client planned to build fewer than 80 homes on the approximately 250 acres north of the river and offered to lease the southern 160 or so acres at no cost to the city of Saugatuck.
The property site, located in southwestern Michigan, straddles the mouth of the Kalamazoo River where it empties into Lake Michigan, linking Saugatuck Dunes State Park to the north with the city of Saugatuck's Oval Beach to the south.
Environmentalists consider McClendon's property to be among the most beautiful dunes on the lake. They say the land is part of the only undeveloped navigable river mouth on the lake.
A local family owned the property, which includes a large lakefront home, for decades. A conservation group had lined up $37.5 million in grants and donations to purchase the land, but McClendon outbid the group by $2 million.

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  • by frank Location: grand rapids on Jan 5, 2008 at 06:13 AM
    someone with that much money,wants to build homes.he couldn't of came up with some idea to make some kind of jobs?tourist bussiness to attract out side people to the put some to work in the state.more of a challange yes,with alot more planning and effort.guess that would be to hard.million $ homes.high property taxes along lake mich.80 homes times millions?just what lake mich needs more of,with a bad economy,possible ression,and maybe ending up in deppression?people with money just have to spend it someway or there not happy.letting all enjoy areas like this makes more sense,but this man has the money to get what he wants one way or the other.
  • by nancy Location: grand haven. on Jan 4, 2008 at 10:43 AM
    just remember,the more trees cut down the bigger chance of bad storms and with natural winds off lake mich.this could just change the weather into what many don't want.tornados are becomming worse every yr for mich.why invite trouble?and why do so many have to miss out on seeing beauty,because the rich man wants to make money off it and own it for winds come off lake mich in the winter enjoy paying high heating the rich don't care.they will someday when it's all gone.woops.
  • by Brian Location: Hillsdale on Jan 3, 2008 at 05:06 PM
    I think the people of the area should have the say so of what goes on with the land. They will be the ones that will lose or benefit. Don`t put it to the leaders! Put it to the people!
  • by kim Location: mich on Jan 3, 2008 at 06:23 AM
    people with money usually get there way.who could afford such homes?seems like some kind of tourist bussiness would of been more there is so much beauty in the area.but it is his money,and must know what he is doing.just hope all construction don't destroy the land?there's alot to think about on this mich is not the state many want to be there just aren't enough good paying jobs and the economy is so this project will make more land private so less can enjoy it.progress is not always best.
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