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Challengers to dune development win appeal at top court

May 20, 2021 GMT

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (AP) — A plan to turn a former church camp into luxury homes in a sand dune area near Lake Michigan can be challenged by some neighbors, the Michigan Supreme Court said Thursday.

After objections arose, the developer sold some land to create a buffer between the project and critics. But the court, 4-2, said the maneuver doesn’t kill the challenge.

State law doesn’t empower the state to “deny a hearing to a petitioner who satisfied the statute’s requirement when the hearing was requested and who continues to desire a hearing,” Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said.

The dispute centers on 130 acres in Saugatuck. A developer, Dune Ridge, acquired the former camp in 2014 and proposed to build 20 luxury homes. The property has sand dunes that are classified as “critical,” a designation that requires state permits.

The developer obtained permits, but some nearby property owners objected and requested a hearing. Dune Ridge sold some land and then argued that the challengers were disqualified because their property no longer was adjacent to the development.

In a dissent, Justice Brian Zahra said any challenges should have been rejected years ago because the permits cover activity within the interior of the property and not “immediately adjacent” to other owners.