Township ZBA Rules SDCA, Adjacent Residents Have No Standing In McClendon Decision
The environmental group and the two adjacent property owners challenging the preliminary plan of a 25-unit site condo proposal just north of the Kalamazoo River do not have “standing” to make any appeal before the Saugatuck Township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), the board said Thursday night in a unanimous vote at a special meeting.
The three-member board acted per the recommendation of Saugatuck Township Attorney Ron Bultje.
Other than saying they felt comfortable with proceeding with the vote, ZBA members said very little.
Not pleased with the ZBA decision, the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance (SDCA) said it would study its options and neither confirmed nor denied it would appeal the issue to a circuit court.
Reading from a resolution he prepared for the occasion and referencing case law, Bultje said,”…the Zoning Board of Appeals finds that the SDCA and the Bily Family (sisters Kathy Wallace and Diane Bily) do not have ‘a special injury or right, or substantial interest, that will be detrimentally affected in a manner different from the citizenry at large’…”
Bultje further claimed that the appellant failed to demonstrate how Oklahoma City gas magnate Aubrey McClendon’s phase one condo project would, as the SDCA claims, affect the study of wetlands or critical dunes “other than to claim that any development of the Singapore Dunes (McClendon’s land firm) property would damage such study.”
SDCA President David Swan gave the group’s response in a prepared statement he had a chance to read from after the ZBA had made its final decision.
“Under the township attorney’s interpretation of the ‘aggrieved by’ standard, no one would ever be able to challenge a decision regarding the Singapore Dunes property (and any proposed development on it).
“If the closest adjacent neighbor and the members of the Coastal Alliance whose use of the abutting natural area is dependent upon healthy wetlands are not ‘aggrieved,’ who is? Mr. Bultje’s answer is no one,” said Swan.
He asserted there were “15 different, obviously aggrieved citizens,” who have expressed grave concern over what they say is the potential destruction of wetlands, thereby affecting their businesses, livelihoods, their scientific research, and so on.
Swan further charged Bultje with presenting a “conflict of interest,” saying, “A neutral, outside opinion is especially important at this moment given that Mr. Bultje is now encouraging the ZBA to refuse to consider this appeal based on a higher court’s judicial doctrine.”
On January 31, the SDCA along with Wallace and Bily through legal counsel, filed their appeal, requesting the ZBA to overturn the decision of the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission on December 17 that granted the preliminary approval of Oklahoma City gas magnate Aubrey McClendon’s phase one condo project.
Prior to scheduling a hearing on that appeal, however, the ZBA said it was legally bound to first determine if the group and the adjacent property owners had standing.
“Unfortunately, there are going to be individuals that are never going to be happy. We wish we could make everybody happy,” said ZBA Chair Shawn Powers after the vote.