Houseboats in Saugatuck? Developers propose site on Kalamazoo River

Allegan County

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — Houseboats might be available for rent on the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck next summer.

A Grand Rapids developer, Eenhoorn LLC, is planning to put four tiny homes at docks in the water near the historic Saugatuck Chain Ferry at Perryman and Park streets to use like hotels.

“There have been custom barges made so that the tiny homes can sit on top of them. Part of that construction is custom waste drainage,” Daniel Stoffer, the project developer, said. “So, they actually have a tank within the barge that we can pump out to make sure there’s no leakage or anything going into the water.”

Stoffer says the houseboats are inspired by the homes on the canals in Amsterdam. The developers are planning to make the tiny homes “wellness” spaces where they can offer things like private yoga and deck seating in front of a serene lake view. 

“We’re really trying to make sure that these are going to be supportive things for Saugatuck by really trying to incorporate local vendors,” project manager Marisa Heule said. “We’re really trying to encourage people to go into the town and restaurants and experience it.” 

Houseboats that may be available for rent on the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck. (July 15, 2021)

Though unfinished inside, the tiny homes are currently being housed at a local marina. Neighbors who live near the proposed site started a petition hoping to prevent the houseboats from moving to their final destination. 

“A lot of concerns about safety is what we’ve heard first and foremost and then of course, the concerns about how they just don’t fit in with the character of this area,” said Ann Broeker, who owns a home across from the proposed site. “Houseboats are just — out of the ones we’ve seen: the very modular, very modern looking houseboats that look a bit like containers, cargo containers — are very out of character with our charming and historic community, particularly right next to the chain ferry.”

A sign protesting the houseboats on the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck. (July 15, 2021)

Broeker says she’s concerned about the fence that was erected ahead of the project. She says she’s worried it reduces visibility for passengers as they exit the ferry and approach the road. Additionally, she says neighbors are concerned about the guests parking on Park Street, which is routinely busy with traffic and pedestrians.

“We welcome everyone to this community, and I don’t think this is anything personal against the developer. I don’t doubt that they also have a special love for Saugatuck, but I just don’t think this is the right property for what they have in mind,” Broeker said.

The developers are currently working with the city to move the project forward, hoping the community will keep an open mind. 

“We love Saugatuck. It’s an important part to us, and I one day want to take my kids there and have it be the same enjoyable experience and I think part of that being able to happen is it growing,” Stoffer said of the project.

On Thursday at 7 p.m., the city will hold a planning commission meeting where they will introduce a houseboat ordinance in connection to the project. There will also be a zoning board meeting on July 28 to address concerns about the project fencing among other topics.

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