SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) - After years of litigation, a federal judge on Monday approved the settlement between Saugatuck Township and Singapore Dunes, the company owned by Aubrey McClendon, over zoning of land along Lake Michigan.
Between October 2004 and June 2006, Singapore Dunes bought around 200 acres of land in what has been called the Denison Property. The company had various ideas on what to do with the property, but the township re-zoned the land.
Singapore Dunes alleged the township improperly "ceded control of its governmental powers" to local advocacy groups. That resulted in the township's "substantively and procedurally improper decision to adopt and uphold a zoning ordinance that restricted the allowable uses on the Denison Property," court documents said.
The Monday ruling was made by Federal Judge Paul Maloney, the same judge who in November 2011 rejected an earlier agreement because it illegally tied the hands of future township boards.
At that time, Maloney said two sections of the agreement violate federal law:
The first problematic section would ban Saugatuck Township from ever rezoning the lakeshore land in question. The second part would prevent the township from rejecting site plans presented by developers.
But in Monday's decision, Maloney wrote, "This consent decree appears to be a fair, adequate, and reasonable resolution of the parties' dispute. These terms, as opposed to those of the overly broad original proposal, appear to be directly related to the legal harms alleged in the complaint."
The 320 acres of land has been in dispute for years, prompting a lawsuit from developer Aubrey McClendon against the township and state charges against two Saugatuck Township clerks after a botched millage vote recount connected to the property.
Plans to develop the property included a 25-suite hotel, condos, a golf course and a marina.
A segment of Judge Paul Maloney's decision:
"...This consent decree appears to be a fair, adequate, and reasonable resolution of the parties' dispute. These terms, as opposed to those of the overly broad original proposal, appear to be directly related to the legal harms alleged in the complaint. The first provision is aimed squarely at the allegedly improperly enacted ordinance. It enjoins the R-4 zoning, but does not purport to limit the Township's ability to enact future zoning ordinances that affect the Denison Property. Second, the term prohibiting discrimination without a rational basis simply restates the minimal requirements of equal protection; it limits the Township no more than the law itself already does. Similarly, the "means of access" provision seems reasonably related to Plaintiff's equal-protection concerns, given the facts stipulated by the parties, and the conditions placed on gifts "that relate to Plaintiff or Plaintiff's Property" also direct]) address Singapore Dunes's claims that the Township Board's decision-making was unfairly influenced by undisclosed monetary payments by advocacy groups. Whereas the first proposed decree bore only a passing relation to the alleged harms, this proposed decree is limited in scope and seems directly focused on remedying the specific improprieties that Singapore Dunes alleges in its complaint. These terms are more balanced than those in the first..."
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