DEQ Holds Public Hearing On Roadway Request By Developer Of Former Presbyterian Camps Property
Dozens of people expressed their views against the most recent proposed development plans at the former Saugatuck Presbyterian Camps, just south of Oval Beach, at Monday’s public hearing at the Saugatuck High School media center.
The meeting was attended by more than 60 locals and representatives from environmental conservation organizations.
Many of those attending asserted that the developer’s application before the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was incomplete and that a proposed roadway and the eight homes it would serve would devastate the critical dune area and ruin a priceless lakefront view, which is, it was argued, what gives the Saugatuck area the charm visitors are attracted to.
“I believe the development is (eventually) going to get wiped out,” said local resident Fred “Fritz” Royce, echoing concerns the proposed homes were too close to the shoreline, deemed a potential risk for
Royce said he lives on waterfront property and has first-hand experience with the ever-changing water levels and shifting dunes.
On average, the eight residential units being proposed are 100 feet from the shoreline, according to DEQ officials.
Royce and others want the proposed building sites to be set farther back; not be visible from Oval Beach; and situated behind the dunes and the tree line, such as where the camp cottages that served campers for 100 years were—and some still are—located.
To put $3 million homes that close to the lake is very risky, said many who shared Royce’s concerns. For example, Peggy Boyce, who said she was born in Saugatuck and has lived here all her life, spoke to the history of the area.
“Why is it called Oval Beach? Because originally the beach parking lot was shaped like an oval. The lake washed it away; half of it is gone.”
Boyce then turned to the developer and his team, who were present at Monday’s public hearing, and said, “Good luck guys.”
The project is being developed by David Barker and funded by Paulus C. Heule of Grand Rapids. The private equity firm Dune Ridge SA LP bought the 130-acre camp, fronting Lake Michigan and bordering Saugatuck’s Oval Beach to the south, for $10 million in February from the Presbytery of Chicago.
Monday’s Dune Ridge DEQ application permit only deals with the proposed roadway work for the property to serve the eight single-family home unit sites located on 22.7 acres.
As a state-regulating agency, the DEQ must address and review overarching factors, namely those portions of the property that are within state-regulated critical dune areas and high-risk erosion dune areas.
Critics do not like Dune Ridge’s proposed roadway to be constructed over the existing gravel roadway that is 3,200 feet in length, 16 feet in width in most parts, and 26 feet in width on fire truck passing zones.
“The existing road is 10 feet in width; it seems arbitrary and capricious to construct the proposed road to access just eight driveways,” said David Swan, whose group Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance has fiercely challenged another local roject - the McClendon property development, located just north of the Kalamazoo River mouth.
Swan offered Ox-Bow School of Art and the recent construction at the Shorewood cottage complex as neighbors that “do not require wider roads for emergency vehicles.”
Michigan League of Conservation Voters Director Patty Birkholz, a former five-term Michigan legislator, also spoke to the matter, noting, “The dunes—as it has been said many times because it is true—are shared treasures and are very much part of the ecosystem of the Saugatuck area. That is what attracts people to come here. They (visitors) do not come here to view new roads.”
The (former Presbytery Camps) project proposes public water and sewer hookup along with construction of new infrastructure to support that, which includes approximately 2,300 feet along Perryman Street.
Nevertheless, since a prior June 3 public hearing, Dune Ridge is also considering the option of installing private well and septic systems for the eight residential units, eliminating the need for the public infrastructure systems.
“Right now we are juggling two plans,” said Royce, referring to the two options. He also said a more definite plan by Dune Ridge needs to be put forth.
Other critics said the proposed development plan was uncertain and indefinite on other matters. For example, local resident Jane Underwood said this year marks her 69th summer in Saugatuck and that her property abuts the former Presbyterian Camps land to the east.
“I hope whoever buys the property, instead of talking about a conservation easement (as the developer has discussed), will put it in writing,” she said. “Let’s see something in black and white.”
Besides Barker’s very brief presentation of his project, none of the attendees Monday spoke in favor of the DEQ application permit proposal.
A prior June 3 DEQ public hearing gave rise to criticism from the public that the state agency did not provide adequate prior notice. Thus, the DEQ held this week’s Monday session.
Following Monday’s meeting, the DEQ will maintain the hearing record open for the next 10 days for any written comments; submissions must be received at the district’s office on or before July 9.
Those submissions may be sent to the DEQ district office which is located at 7953 Adobe Road, Kalamazoo MI 49009-5025.