Legal Battle Continues As SDCA Files Court Challenge Over Township Ruling
The group that claims to be for development that adheres to local zoning ordinances and that is contiguous with the surrounding property and its environment is appealing the latest ruling of the Saugatuck Township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) before the Allegan County Circuit Court.
Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance (SDCA) President David Swan said he takes umbrage at accusations his group is once again forcing Saugatuck Township to waste more of its taxpayer dollars on SDCA’s ongoing legal battle with Oklahoma City natural gas magnate Aubrey McClendon and his plans to build high-end homes on property he owns along Lake Michigan.
Swan said he rejects any notion that compares his group’s actions with the actions of McClendon when it is implied that the SDCA is now culpable of the very thing that the SDCA was once charging McClendon with: causing undue financial hardship on Saugatuck Township residents as related to legal fees.
Diane Bily and Katherine Bily-Wallace joined the SDCA in the legal complaint filed May 2.
The SDCA and the sisters are asking the circuit court to reverse an April 4 township ZBA decision when that body determined that the Bilys and the SDCA have “no legal standing” and that they have not shown that they have been “aggrieved,” meaning that the group cannot legally appeal Singapore Dunes LLC’s preliminary plan (McClendon’s local land firm).
Oral arguments for the case are scheduled for August 8 at 11 a.m.
“We are just asking for good governance and accountable legal processes, just as we always have,” said Swan. “Everybody who submitted an affidavit was aggrieved by the preliminary plan and (Saugatuck Township Attorney) Ron Bultje said no. We are appealing his decision to the circuit court.
“And talking about the expenses of this, Mr. McClendon has cost the township over half a million dollars in legal expenses over the course of five years.”
He added, “Ron Bultje is paid $100 an hour; I’ll be surprised if this takes Ron Bultje more than 20 hours to prepare for (this case’s) court—that is $2,000.”
One angry township resident echoed the sentiments of many fellow township homeowners, saying Swan “is an arrogant, self-promoting environmentalist who lives in Saugatuck - not the township - and his actions are costing all township residents their hard-earned tax dollars.
“The unmitigated gall of this individual (Swan) and his small group of self-important environmentalists to so easily brush aside the tax dollars that we - not he or the SD
CA - have to keep paying for by his prolonging this legal fight with McClendon is incredible,” said Margaret Mason, who with her husband, own property in the township and Chicago.
“Here is another wake-up call, Mr. Swan. You don’t own that land. Your group couldn’t even come up with enough money to buy it. Many of us who live here want this upscale development and the tax dollars it will add to our economic base.
“And when you get on your high moral horse, please don’t forget that all of us remember you and your group tried to secretly bribe the then-township leaders to fight McClendon in court, never disclosing it publicly.
“And now I hear that you and your family are planning to leave your home in the City of Saugatuck and move to Ann Arbor later this summer. Good riddance, although I’m certain your ego will keep you and your small group of followers continuing to cost us township residents our tax dollars,” said Mason.
Asked to comment, Saugatuck Township Supervisor Bill Wester said, “I think its all a moot point at this time; the last two months, our city attorney, our zoning administrator and I have signed off on the land division (of the McClendon’s property as it relates to the preliminary plan).”
He added, however, that there still is a long road ahead regarding approval of actual construction of buildings as the developer must come back to the Planning Commission to receive final approval of the development plan and will be subject to county and state agency permits.
Unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in December 2012, the preliminary plan is proposing 25 homes on 81 acres on the shore of Lake Michigan and just north of the Kalamazoo River mouth.
The plan, which also calls for a looping road and utility easements on the 310-acre property, is conditioned on proper permits from the various state and county agencies as well as adherence to township standards.
Claiming that the Planning Commission relied on erroneous interpretations of the zoning ordinance, specifically on issues over open space within the critical dune overlay, the SDCA and the Bilys appealed the decision to the ZBA. The ZBA denied their appeal.
In its filing, the SDCA is also asking the circuit court to declare the appellants as being aggrieved and/or affected parties as set forth by the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act as well as local law.
It further requests the court to declare the ZBA as having the legal authority and legal duty to interpret the zoning ordinance.