Allegations Of Alleged Payoff Promise From Presbyterian Camp Developer To SDCA President Surfaces
Did the developer who is planning to sell new lakeshore homesites at the Presbyterian Camp in Saugatuck make a secret deal with the president of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance (SDCA) to call off his environmental members from protesting the project in exchange for a promise of $250,000 when the development was completed?
Or did the developer - Dave Barker of Grand Rapids - lie to indviduals, including a well-known local real estate broker, when he told them he had made a finanical deal with SDCA President David Swan to halt the environmental group’s protests of his development plans in exchange for the future payment if Swan helped support his efforts with the City of Saugatuck for the project’s approval?
Or, did the people who Barker reportedly told of his offered payoff to Swan just “misunderstand” what he was saying, as Barker now contends?
This until now behind-the-scenes controversy is now bubbling to the surface as new facts and allegations are being uncovered.
At issue are the statements of three individuals - including local real estate broker Dick Waskin - who say Barker, on two separate occasions, told them he had offered - and Swan accepted - a promise of a $250,000 payment to get Swan to end his and the SDCA’s protests and opposition to his development project involving the former Presbyterian Camp.
That alleged offer - and the alleged acceptance of the future financial payment offer by Swan - also came with another string, the men said Barker told them: Swan would try to help Barker gain city approval of cost-saving changes to his project.
That help, the men said Barker informed them, would come in the form of Swan attempting to persuade city officials to approve a plan to reduce the width of proposed roadways in the new development; and allow a private water and sewer system in the development (septic systems and wells) instead of mandating that Barker bring in the more expensive and environmentally damaging public sewer and water lines.
Waskin and the others also said Barker told them that he told Swan he was willing to consider a suggestion by Swan to use the remaining, undeveloped back acreage of the property as some type of camp - as long as it wasn’t a religious camp - and that he would consider leasing that land for that purpose, the men involved in the meetings with Barker told the Observer.
That alleged $250,000 payment to Swan would be paid at some point in the future once Barker’s development was approved by the city, built and began making money, Waskin and the other men said Barker told them.
That money, the men said Barker told them, would come from the savings Barker would realize if Swan could come through and persuade the city to allow him to put in the less-expensive infrastructure changes.
As part of that deal, the men said Barker told them that Swan agreed to help persuade City of Saugatuck officials to approve Barker’s development plans as he was applying for a special land use/site plan approval because the property is in the Conservation Recreation Camp district that controls where houses can be built so the existing environment can be preserved. The area has steep-sloped and critical dunes.
Also prompting the newspapers’ probe were conversations with two members of the SDCA who said they were surprised, disappointed and unsure why Swan and the SDCA appeared to abruptly stop its then-onging protests and public opposition to Barker’s development plans last May after initially being called upon to take action to try and protect the Presbyterian Camp’s natural beauty and critical dunes areas.
During recent interviews with the Observer, Waskin and the other individuals confirmed their conversations with Barker,
In two recent Observer interviews with Barker, he confirmed he did have two separate conversations with, first Waskin, and then Waskin and others and, for the most part, the men’s statements were accurate.
However, Barker has repeatedly disputed the men’s statements that he (Barker) told them he offered Swan - and Swan agreed to accept - a future payment of $250,000 in exchange for Swan calling off SDCA protests and opposition to his development plans.
“No, I didn’t do that,” Barker told the Observer when asked if he made any financial - or any other offer - to Swan in exchange for Swan’s support.
“Everything else they (the men he spoke with) said is pretty accurate; but I don’t need to get into a legal fight with Swan or the SDCA. I didn’t offer him (Swan) any money.”
Waskin and the other men said Barker is now recanting the statements made to them for either one of two reasons: he did actually offer Swan the money and doesn’t want to confirm that as it may impact his proposals to the City of Saugatuck once it becomes public; or he lied to Waskin and the others in an attempt to portray himself as “a big man who could get Swan and the SDCA to back off with a bribe.”
“I can tell you this,” said Waskin. “I’ve known Dave for a long time and I consider us friends. But he is lying when he tells you he never told us he offered - and Swan accepted - a future payment in exchange for his (Swan’s) help.”
Several requests from the Observer to interview Swan for this story were not responded to. It is important to note that the Observer never informed Swan of what the story was about when making the request for an interview, only that it involved him.
Until Monday, only Barker, Waskin, the other men Barker spoke with who asked to remain unnamed; the Observer’s editor and the newspaper’s attorney knew of the specific allegations involving Swan. All have denied talking with Swan except Barker, who has not responded to requests for a follow-up interview.
However, on Monday, despite not being informed by the newspaper about any of the allegations made about him and Barker, Swan sent this email - written in the third person - to the Observer:
“If you or others are alleging that somehow David Swan was paid to not speak against the development at Presbyterian Camp, that allegation is completely without truth, factual basis or any other justification. It is nonsense.”
Barker details his meetings with Swan and the “agreements” he made to move his development project forward.