Why the Dunes are Important
Why the Dunes are Threatened
A Timeline of Events
What ELPC is Doing to Help
The Saugatuck Coastal Dunes Area is a pristine assembly of beaches, freshwater dunes, water, woods and wetlands running from Douglas to Holland and covering approximately 2,500 acres along the Lake Michigan coastline and the mouth of the Kalamazoo River. A mix of private residences, historic sites and significant ecological habitat comprise the area, which local and national advocates have worked hard to preserve over many years (click here to view a recent timeline of events).
The area includes globally imperiled inter-dunal wetlands, habitat that is home to several threatened and endangered species. And it joins together Saugatuck’s Oval Beach, the Saugatuck Lighthouse Cottage, and the Ox-Bow School of Art. Endangered wildlife includes the prairie warbler, which depends on the jack pines that grow in the Dunes. And threatened birds, such as bald eagles, osprey, northern harrier and black terns, have also been documented in the area.
These Dunes have been named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Proposed development could destabilize the dunes, creating substantial risk for the endangered and threatened wildlife that depend on this unique habitat. Further, it could threaten a unique way of life and tourism for the people who live in and visit the area, which contains a crosshatch of boutiques and inns.
As Lana Pollack, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board Chair and former Michigan State Senator, put it: “The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Areas represents an extraordinary mix of historical, cultural and ecological assets – threatened by a commonplace (albeit very expensive) housing, marina, commercial and hotel development.”
After losing several battles with ELPC and our local allies, billionaire developer Aubry McClenden scaled back his original plans somewhat (click here for a timeline of events) and now seeks to build single-family homes and high-rise condominiums with an accompanying marina on the property. While this proposal is much less destructive than the original resort plan, much of it is still sited in the most ecologically sensitive portion of the property, on the dunes along Lake Michigan. Further, this residential plan does not meet the environmental standards of the town’s zoning ordinance and has other procedural defects.
ELPC serves as the legal counsel for the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance in its fight to protect the dunes and uphold local zoning rules. Currently, ELPC is engaging in the environmental permit process for the first phase of development and challenging variance requests before the Zoning Board of Appeals to ensure that any development fully complies with the town’s environmental zoning requirements and is as environmentally responsible as possible.