Sand Mining Operation Approved By Township Officials Angers Fearful Residents
Having failed to get approval by the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission to mine 125,000 cubic yards of sand near Old Allegan Road. and 133rd Avenue, the company Top Grade came back with an even bigger request to extract three times as much—400,000 cubic yards of sand—on a different area of the operation site.
Much to the distress of residential neighbors, the latter request was approved by the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission on June 4 in a 5-2 vote.
Saugatuck Township Planning Commission Chair Maggie Conklin and Commissioners Bill Rowe, Ed Welk, Andy Prietz and Chris Lozano voted in favor, while Commissioners Rebecca Israels and Doug Lane voted against the measure.
Top Grade works for landowner RJ Prospects and the sand mining operation site is located within an A2-zoned parcel.
Affected neighbors are questioning the planning commission’s competency and integrity, citing, for example, Saugatuck Planning Commission Chair Margaret Baker Conklin’s comment in the June 4 meeting that, in support of her argument that the township had little recourse versus State of Michigan law, “sand mining can occur in downtown Saugatuck.”
In an appeal for support before the Saugatuck Township Board at the June 6 meeting, Daniel DeFranco, who lives across from the proposed sand mining operation, noted, in part:
“I want to move, I want to tell people not to move here because the (Saugatuck Township) planning commission doesn’t have the competency or the resolve to say, ‘no,’ when there are serious consequences to the safety, the health and the real estate investment of members of this community is threatened,”
DeFranco is a member of a group—along with neighbors Larry and Jane Dickie, Dustin Tyler, Holly Stafford and Jennifer Ellison— that has hired attorney Randall Schipper of Cunningham Dalman, P.C. to challenge the Top Grade’s request and the commission’s decision-making process. Case law is on their side, they say.
Larry Dickie, who lives on Old Allegan Road, told The Local Observer the group has yet to decide if they are going pursue legal action and appeal the planning commission’s decision at the circuit court.
On Dec. 18, 2017, the planning commission denied Top Grade’s first request to remove 125,000 cubic yards to create a 3.5-acre pond, citing it was inharmonious with the residential neighborhood and would alter the essential character of the surrounding area.
In its second application request (a Sept. 20, 2017 Special Approval Use), Top Grade moved the digging site to the lot’s southwest corner at a spot already excavated by the former property owner, Ravines Real Estate.
At an Oct. 23, 2017 public hearing, neighbors had a chance to tell the planning commission they were concerned about truck traffic, noise, pollution, groundwater issues, and how real estate values would be affected.
The commission unanimously voted to reject applicant’s plan in December, but on Feb. 5, 2018 it rescinded that decision based on Saugatuck Township Attorney Nick Curcio advising that the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act 110 of 2006, section 125.3205, could invalidate the commission’s denial.
The planning commission gave Top Grade another opportunity to submit information and plans to demonstrate it met township standards at the April 30 public hearing.
Schipper challenged that decision, noting in a May 30 letter to the commission that Top Grade’s original proposal would have left surface stormwater and that plan later “morphed, haphazardly, to mining down to below the water table, creating a ‘ground water surface interface’ where none existed before.”
Schipper, making reference to the Allegan County Road Commission’s opinion that adjacent roads were not in good shape, further argued that additional trucks traveling with heavy loads on those roads would only exacerbate their bad condition.
Top Grade head Ross Veltema contends the operation is no different than other sand mines the company has created, including one in the township at 63rd Street.
He asserts the company will complete the project by creating a visually appealing lake that will be harmonious with the existing neighborhood.