Saugatuck Township officials are willing to bankrupt the township to stop a development along Lake Michigan, according to an article appearing in The Wall Street Journal. Aubrey McClendon, co-owner of pro basketball’s Oklahoma City Thunder, fell in love with the area near Saugatuck while vacationing there with his wife about 10 years ago and purchased about 400 acres of mostly undeveloped dunes for $39.5 million in 2006. He would like to develop a planned community with a hotel, marina, condos and homes.

Saugatuck Township officials have put the future of the local unit of government on the line by spending more than $250,000 dollars (their total budget is $715,000) to fight the proposed development. A primary tactic used by township officials was to change the zoning, placing limitations on development, after McClendon purchased the property.

During my brief tenure as director of the Michigan State Park system, I requested funds to buy property abutting the Great Lakes if the property was adjacent to an existing state park. The operative word is “buy,” not steal property through zoning changes or eminent domain. If state or local government officials believe the private property along the Saugatuck dunes areas is vital to be in public ownership, they should have purchased it.

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The action of Saugatuck Township officials shows a blatant disregard for private property rights and the rule of law. No matter what your view of the proposed development, it is critical that property rights in Michigan be protected.

 Oregon and Arizona have enacted statutory or constitutional protections to thwart the very kind of actions that have been taken by Saugatuck Township officials that threaten private property rights. Michigan residents should demand lawmakers in the state do the same. 

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