Saugatuck houseboat debate leads to lawsuit

Allegan County

SAUGATUCK, Mich., (WOOD) — Four floating homes near Park Street and Perryman Street in Saugatuck are at the heart of a lawsuit.

The homes, meant to be used like hotels or homestays, are a part of a project by Grand Rapids developer Eenhoorn. The floating homes were being moored at a marina in Douglas as the city, neighbors and the developer contended over the project’s future and location.

“The neighbors of course were concerned when we learned a developer was going to put houseboats at this location,” Ann Broeker said as she stood along the Kalamazoo River Tuesday.

Broeker lives across the street from the proposed site. She and several other neighbors have adorned their yards with signs that read “Stop the Houseboat Invasion” in an effort to have the floating homes installed elsewhere.

“The biggest concern that we heard was related to safety. This is a very small, narrow strip of land on a very busy stretch of road. So, having cars here for short-term rentals, numerous cars here, just posed a lot of potential danger,” Broeker said.

Residents in a Saugatuck neighborhood oppose a project to install houseboats along the Kalamazoo River. (Sept. 21, 2021)

After months of back and forth, the city recently passed an ordinance effectively banning houseboats from the stretch of the Kalamazoo River where they were proposed. City council cited concerns of parking and sewage disposal in their reading of the ordinance.

They also say the houseboats will block views of the waterfront, which could negatively impact tourism. The ordinance says that houseboats can be moored at full-service marinas in the city.

Despite the ordinance, the developer moved forward installing the houseboats on Monday and plans to take legal action.

“My client is very frustrated. He dealt with the city in good faith with an express contract, fully negotiated, approved by the city council and in reliance upon that contract, my client expended a lot of money for this project,” said Steve Afendoulis with Varnum LLP, the law firm now representing Eenhoorn.

Afendoulis says the boats are not in operation, only being stored along the river. He says he believes his client has a right to have the boats there because of a previous contract between the city and the developer. Afendoulis says in that contract, the city was aware of and signed off on developers intention to install houseboats or structures along the river and install an 8-foot privacy fence.

“In 2019, an agreement was entered between the city and my client,” Afendoulis said. “The city kept its benefits of the contract. It kept the property they got. It kept the thousands of dollars they were paid and now, the city is saying you need to tear down the privacy screen and you can’t use the property for structures or houseboats, in clear violation of an express contract we entered in to on good faith.”

Attorneys for Eenhoorn have filed a complaint. They say they want the city to honor the contract they signed in 2019 and allow the houseboats on Park Street.

The city declined comment pending the legal matter. They say city council will likely begin discussing the issue in closed session at their next meeting.

Homeowners say they’re hoping a court sides with the city.

“We all love the landscape and the view of the Kalamazoo River, and we just want to preserve what a wonderful place this is,” Broeker said.

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