SAUGATUCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Aubrey McClendon filed a lawsuit Tuesday against SaugatuckTownship and five officials, alleging secret deals and illegalpayments related to the zoning of dunes along Lake Michigan, aportion of which he sold recently to a conservation group for $19million.
McClendon, a part-owner of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, ownsthe North Denison property along Lake Michigan, just north of theKalamazoo River.
In the 32-page lawsuit, the court is asked to overturn thezoning of that property which restricted development. McClendonclaims -- through the suit -- the township broke several laws whenthey rezoned the area, including exempting everyone else from therestrictions.
According to the lawsuit, in July 2005, the Township PlanningCommission violated the law by holding two public meetings todiscuss rezoning the Denison property but failed to notify theowners of the land -- the Denison Trust and Kenelm Denison.McClendon had a standing contract to purchase the land at thetime.
The suit also claims the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, whichfought to prevent development on the property, made secret paymentsto the township and illegally worked with the township board tore-zone the land to prevent McClendon from building.
Saugatuck Township Supervisor William Wester told 24 Hour News 8he knew the lawsuit was coming but has not yet read it in itsentirety. Wester also said he has not been contacted by any of theattorneys from Singapore Dunes LLC, McClendon's group.
Wester said the claims are baseless, that the township followedall the rules and procedures concerning the rezoning. This ismerely, he said, an attempt by Singapore Dunes LLC to litigate somuch the township would run out of money to fight. Wester said thatwon't happen.
He admitted that Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance and otherprivate sources did donate money to the township on their own, butthe money was not earmarked for any specific use and was placedinto the general fund -- all public information.
Wester denies any wrongdoing on behalf of the township.
"I think we would forfeit or compromise our position in thelawsuit if I were to comment any further," Wester said. "I don'tagree with them, but I think I'd like to pass it along to ourattorneys before I make any further comment."
The township and McClendon have been at odds with each other fornearly six years. Saugatuck township officials have spent a lot ofmoney fighting McClendon's lawsuits during that period.
The township board adopted the R4 rezoning amendment in May2006.
In November 2007, McClendon approached the board with acompromise agreement that would give him more latitude todevelop.
But the suit alleges the township held secret meetings with thenewly formed Saugatuck Dunes Costal Alliance, to have the groupdisrupt public meetings, alarm the public and throw the agreementoff track.
McClendon's group also claims the township took up to $35,000 inunder-the-table money from the alliance.
The alliance denies the allegations but doesn't deny supportingmeasures to protect the dunes from developers with deeppockets.
"When you have developers come in with so much money, there havebeen many, many instances where that can break the back of thelocal government, just because they have more money," said MarciaPerry, the vice president of the Saugatuck Dunes CoastalAlliance.
Plans were in the works to rezone the Denison property in 2003,before McClendon was in the picture, according to the coastalalliance, which recently received a five-figure grant from asignificant Michigan foundation to pay for legal expenses andcontinue the fight.
"Here, he's going to find that we are steadfast in believingthat what is so wonderful about the Saugatuck dunes region needs toremain that way," Perry said.
In May, township voters will be asked to approve an additionalmillage to cover enforcement of laws, ordinances and regulations,and the ballot language specifically states the money raised can beused for legal expenses. Wester said any extra money will not beearmarked for any particular cause.
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