A once-popular country club and golf course is about to be versatile residential, commercial and recreational development.
Residents of St. Joseph Township packed town hall on Tuesday to participate in a public hearing on the proposed development of the former Berrien Hills Golf Club property along the St. Joseph River. Following the hearing, the St. Joseph Township Planning Commission approved a plan submitted by Southwest Michigan Coastal Ventures to turn the property into a planned unit development featuring a variety of private residences, as well as open spaces. public natural resources and commercial enterprises.
The proposed development.
“This property has been an integral part of the Township of St. Joseph since 1923, when the Berrien Hills Golf Club opened,” said Mark Miller, attorney for Southwest Michigan Coastal Ventures. “It’s been closed for about three years, so it’s kind of like a hundred-acre hole in the community.”
Since the closure of the Berrien Hills Golf Club, the property has become a kind of nature reserve. There is a bald eagle nest on the property, and the old cart paths are a popular place for some community members to stroll and enjoy the river. Coastal Ventures development director Michael Wood said the developers plan to honor the natural beauty of the property by including a lake, rain gardens and leaving around 50% of the land open space.
“This development is essentially nature-based,” Wood said. “We did everything we could to honor the site. It’s obviously a wet site, so we have 60 acres of floodplain to fill. But, we created this lake…we took the wetlands there and used the drainage site and connected them to the rain gardens.
Wood said they intended to plant lots of native species to attract wildlife, adding that the eagle’s nest was clearly marked on all drawings.
“We intend to follow all recommendations and regulations regarding eagles and migratory birds,” Wood said. “Any endangered species, whether plant or animal.”
Abonmarche’s lead landscape architect, Kathy Burczak, said she was “honored and proud” to be part of the development.
“Often developers want to cover every square inch and don’t care about the natural environment,” Burczak said. “We try to showcase all the natural beauty, we try to preserve as many trees as possible.”
The proposed development includes 22 single-family lots, 127 townhouses, 40 townhouses, 90 apartments, 20 seniors’ cottages and a 40-unit extended-stay hotel. In a commercial area along Napier Avenue, there are plans for a brewery and events center. Additional features offered on the 100-acre property include a brewery, restaurant, event venue, fitness center, rain gardens, outdoor recreation areas, trails and a lake. The developers said at the hearing that many amenities, including businesses, the lake and trails, would be open to the public.
One feature, which has angered many members of the public, is a proposed roundabout at Miami Road and Napier that would require approval from the Berrien County Department of Highways. Other residents have expressed concerns about the proposed development, ranging from safety issues to construction noise and the protection of wildlife habitat from a bald eagle nest. While many concerns were raised, several residents also spoke out in favor of the developers’ ideas to preserve much of the wetlands, as well as the additional housing and taxes the project will bring to the township.
Significant interaction between members of the public and the proponents took place during the hearing, with Miller, Wood and Burczak each responding directly to concerns presented by the public. After public comments closed, board members took turns asking the developers questions and commenting on the proposal.
Developers are listening to members of the public share their concerns about the proposed Berrien Hills development.
“I would like to commend the developer for what I think is an environmentally friendly design,” said Commissioner Jim Hahn. “I think your willingness to engage with citizens is also commendable. I think when we come out of this process, those concerns will be addressed.
With the approval of the planning commission, the project will now be sent to the township board for final approval. The next regular council meeting is November 7 at 6 p.m.
To view the full development proposal, visit the Township of St. Joseph website.