Gay beach sold


SAUGATUCK TWP - It's a prime piece of land along the Lake Michigan shore, filled with dunes and forests. Its a unique series of biomes and it is 412 acres. It's crawling with ticks, and dozens of sunbathers, both nude and clothed.

To residents of Saugatuck Township and surrounding areas, it is the Denison property.

To the LBGT community it is an unofficial gay beach.

But whatever one calls it, things are changing and quickly. The property was purchased by an Oklahoma billionaire named Aubrey McClendon for $39.5 million dollars last year. McClendon co-owns the Seattle Supersonics, and has donated $1 million to Gary Bauer's anti-gay marriage programming.

McClendon has proposed a multi-housing dwelling on the property. While the Saugatuck Township planning commission carefully weighs the proposed buildings on the land, a group of Saugatuck area residents is fighting to preserve the land.

Those opposed have coalesced into a group calling itself the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance. The group is a mishmash of environmental groups. They want to protect the delicate environmental region, which is located between Saugatuck City's Oval Beach and Saugatuck Dunes State Park. In the middle is the mouth of the Kalamazoo River.

According to a letter published in the Holland Sentinel and sent to McClendon and his wife Katie, local philanthropists had a bid on the table to purchase the land. Alliance president David Swan told the Sentinel the bid was nearly $40 million.

"In Saugatuck," the letter the Alliance sent the new owners states, "our geography is our economy."

"It's an economic issue if you look at it in the longer term," said Mike Shaw, an alliance vice president, to the Sentinel.

BTL attempted to contact Saugatuck LLC representatives, but no one was available for comment. However, the Sentinel quotes Stephen M. Neumer as a representative. Neumer's number provided to BTL was to a Chicago law firm, which informed BTL Neumer has retired.

Saugatuck LLC, the company formed by McClendon for this project, fully intends to treat the land with respect, "but after all, this is private property," said Neumer in the Sentinel.

"We're moving ahead with the plan to develop the property," he said. "We do not have a firm plan yet to present to the planning commission."

At present, Saugatuck LLC is reviewing ecological studies to determine what those plans might become.

"There's no reason for concern yet. We haven't proposed anything yet," Neumer said. "People are nervous. They don't know what we're going to be coming forth with, and I understand their concerns."

More on the web: Studies of land can be viewed at http://SaugatuckTownship.org, click on the planning commission and scroll down to the Denison Property information from May 2007.

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