Proposal by Crystal Downs Country Club

On March 1, 2023, Crystal Downs presented the Benzie County Road Commission (“BCRC”) with a proposed agreement to relocate ¾ mile of Sutter Road to the eastern edge of land currently owned by the Club.  The intersection of the new road and M-22 would be approximately ½ mile east of the current location (see map below).  The proposal requests that the right-of-way or the old portion of the road be vacated by the county and become part of the Downs’ property.  The portion of the old road from the top of the hill to the the Club’s maintenance facility by the driving range would then be removed by the Club and returned to a “natural state”.  the Club would bear the entire cost of constructing the new road.  I would note at this juncture that the term natural state is not defined or explained in the proposal.

The original proposal stated that the the Downs would pay for the construction of the new road through the sale of ten residential lots along the path of the new road.

Progress thus far

The Benzie County Road Commission discussed the proposal at their first meeting in March. At that time, they decided to reach out to the Lake Township Board of Trustees for their “approval, recommendations or opinion” before going any further with their evaluation of the proposal. The Road Commission was also concerned about certain provisions of the agreement and the lack of final engineering plans.

The Lake Township Board discussed the proposal and held a public comment session at the April meeting. They did not make any decision at that meeting, opting to wait until the May meeting before voting. They had the opportunity to stop the proposal in its tracks by voting to oppose it. Unfortunately, without any public comment at the May meeting, and citing emails they received showing an even split between those for and against the proposal, they voted to send a response of “neutral” to the Road Commission. When the Manager of the Road Commission was informed of the vote the next day during a phone conversation, he responded “well, they had their chance.”

A Freedom of Information Request was filed with the Township seeking copies of the emails received by the Township to verify their assertion of an even split of opinions in the correspondence. A file of the emails was received and the actual count was as they said, 21 for and 20 against.

When the originally acquired the property, they agreed as part of the contract to record a deed restriction that would prohibit and subdivision of lots or any construction of residential, commercial or industrial buildings. Upon the final closing, the deed restriction was filed. However, using the argument that since the Downs filed the original restriction they could remove it, the deed restriction was lifted by the Downs on April 14, 2023. They had hoped this would clear the way to subdividing the property and selling the lots to pay for the new road. This violation of the promise to and contract with the sellers of the property did not go unnoticed. Within a week of the May Township meeting, the Downs sent an email to the membership stating they could not overcome the legal and regulatory restrictions of selling the lots and that the project was on hold until they could find an alternate source of funds to pay for the project.

As of August 3rd, they have informed their membership of the following methods for financing the project:

Crystal Downs notified its members today of how it plans to pay for moving Sutter Road:

  • $600,000 will be drawn from its capital reserve fund
  • Initiation fees will increase by $8,000
  • A special assessment of $2,800 per “stock” member, less for senior member.  This assessment will have to be voted on by the members.
  • An $800,000 loan from “interested” members who could participate in the 10-year loan in $50,000 increments.  The initiation fee increase would be used to pay the loan.

They will still need approvals from MDOT for the new intersection and the Benzie County Road Commission will need to approve the proposed agreement to move the road. According to a member of the Crystal Lake Watershed Commission, they will also need approval from the Lake Township Planning Commission.

On September 5th, the Downs sent out a survey to its membership regarding the members’ thoughts and opinions on the project.  On September 22, the Downs sent an email to its members about the results of the survey.  The results of the survey as reported bby the Downs are summarized below:

1.  Number of members surveyed:  468

2.  Percentage of surveys completed and returned:  73%

3.  Response to question asking Do you generally support the idea of finding a way for the Club to relocate Sutter Road?  60% yes

4.  Percentage of respondents in favor of the current funding proposal (see Sutter Road Update #7)”  44%

Many respondents questioned various aspects of the proposal, including the evaluation of alternatives, using a significant amount of the unrestricted reserve funds, and the increase of initiation fees.

I can’t think of a better way to put it than to quote the email:

“The overall sentiment was that this was not a project the members were comfortable funding at this time through additional assessments or other increased charges.”

“Because there was insufficient support for the funding proposal presented to the membership, the Board will not be proceeding with the funding plan as presented. Instead, we will continue to work on funding options that would have less direct financial impact on members (current and future), and continue to explore alternatives to address all the safety issues identified.”

What does this all mean?  To me, the Downs is still trying to figure out a way to pay for the relocation that would be approved by the members.  It seems that many of the 60% who favor the relocation of the road do so as long as they don’t have to pay for it.

Save Sutter Road

Dear Neighbor:

You are signing this petition to show your opposition to the proposal by Crystal Downs Country Club to move Sutter Road in Lake Township, Benzie County, Michigan. This petition will be presented to any governing authority responsible for approving the proposal and/or vacating the current right-of-way for Sutter Road.

%%your signature%%

Thank you in advance for your support!
224 signatures