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Saugatuck Citizens Form Alliance to Respond to New Development

Group builds on region’s success advocating for land and natural resources

April 9, 2007 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Mike Shaw
  The Coastal Alliance uses effective communications, purposeful coalition building, and expertise in best practices in planning, economic development, natural resource conservation, and policymaking.

SAUGATUCK – The Michigan Land Use Institute, in collaboration with a group of residents and public interest organizations in Allegan County, has launched a new project to draw statewide attention to the growing development pressures the Saugatuck coastal region is facing. The project will research and communicate the environmental, economic, and cultural challenges that such development poses for the region, one of the most beautiful maritime landscapes in the Lake Michigan basin.

The project was prompted by the sale last year of one of the last wild stretches of beach and dunes in the southern Lake Michigan basin.

The goal of the group, which is known as the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, is to inspire Michigan to preserve and protect the natural geography and rural character of the Saugatuck region, which includes the recently sold land. In doing so, this unsurpassed Great Lakes landscape, distinguished by magnificent fresh water dunes, sustainable farms, and inviting small towns, can serve as a foundation of Michigan’s competitive economy and superior quality of life.

The campaign's initial partners include Concerned Citizens for Saugatuck Dunes State Park, the Kalamazoo River Protection Association, and Laketown Alliance for Neighborly Development. All three groups have successful track records.

The Kalamazoo River Protection Association played an important role in establishing the Saugatuck Dunes State Park in 1982. Concerned Citizens for Saugatuck Dunes State Park led the effort a few years ago that blocked a proposal to cut a new water line through the park. And the Laketown Alliance for Neighborly Development recently convinced a landowner to abandon a proposal to build a new truck stop on open land at Exit 41 on Interstate 196 outside Saugatuck.

A Magnificent Place
The Saugatuck Dunes coastal region encompasses the western reaches of Allegan County, bounded by the lower Kalamazoo River watershed, the Saugatuck Dunes, Lake Michigan, rural lands in Laketown, Saugatuck, Ganges, and Manlius Townships, as well as the Villages of Douglas and Fennville and the City of Saugatuck.

Despite a downturn in the national housing market, this region continues to develop quickly. It lies between Grand Rapids, the fastest growing metropolitan area in Michigan, and Chicago, the fastest growing metropolitan region in the upper Midwest. Both metropolitan areas are generating larger numbers of professionals who are relocating to the region or building second homes.

The region's growth issue became more critical last year, when Aubrey K. McClendon, the chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy, paid $43 million for a roughly 400-acre stretch of coastal beach and dunes in Saugatuck, and announced he was intent on developing the parcel. Mr. McClendon’s purchase was the most ever spent by a private individual for undeveloped land along the Lake Michigan coast.

The Coastal Alliance plans to achieve its goals through effective communications and dissemination, purposeful coalition building, and expert knowledge of best practices in planning, economic development, natural resource conservation, and policy-making.

Campaign Goals Are Reachable
The first phase of the Coastal Alliance’s research and communications campaign will culminate in a public meeting, tentatively scheduled for late May, during which the new owners of the former Denison property are expected to make public their preliminary plans for developing the land. The communications campaign will produce a white paper, several articles and opinion pieces, as well as a fact sheet and other public information.

The goals of the Coastal Alliance’s campaign, which could persist for several years, are to:

  • Protect and preserve the natural character of the Lake Michigan coast line in Ganges, Saugatuck, and Laketown Townships, as well as in Saugatuck and Douglas and on the former Denison properties in Saugatuck.
  • Establish the Saugatuck Dunes coastal region as a recognized leader in community development and land use practices that conserve energy, land, and natural resources, promote sustainable food networks through small family farms; and produce better places to live and do business.
  • Encourage and assist Saugatuck Dunes coastal region governments to work together, in cooperation with Allegan County and the state and federal governments, to develop a collaborative approach in planning, approving, and overseeing new development.
  • Conserve open space and farmland in four Allegan County townships by ensuring the diversity, sustainability, and profitability of small family farms.  

Keith Schneider, a journalist, is the editor and director of program development at the Michigan Land Use Institute. Read his blog at www.modeshift.org. Reach him at keith@mlui.org.

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