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Sugar Loaf break-ins stir 'hazard' concerns

Two break-ins and an estimated $10,000 in damage done to Sugar Loaf Resort last weekend has neighbors worried and local law enforcement officials on the lookout for the perpetrators.

“Sugar Loaf Resort is just a dangerous place at this point,” said Patricia Flynn, president of the Sugar Loaf Village Association, a group of local property owners. “It’s a fire hazard, there’s mold inside the lodge, there’s no sewer hookup, and now there’s a lot of broken glass all over the place. I really wish someone would just tear it down.”

On Saturday, Leelanau County Deputy Sheriff Christopher Bailey responded to a report of a forced entry at the resort. Resort caretaker Wallace Fryer said he had checked that the resort was secure on Friday evening, but on Saturday morning noticed that a door damaged in a previous break-in had been forced open once again, according to Bailey’s report.

Fryer, the father of Sugar Loaf Resort owner Kate Wickstrom, had installed two deadbolts and readjusted a latch plate to make the door more secure, the report said. Shoe marks on the door indicated it had been kicked in again, however. The deadbolts and latchplate were damaged.

The following day, Fryer reported another break-in, this time with glass being broken “throughout the building” and tables flipped over. Fryer estimated that additional damage to equipment and other property inside the resort was worth around $10,000, according to the report.

“Fryer said he did not have any suspects at this point except that his belief that it was younger juveniles,” the report stated.

Leelanau County Deputy Sheriff Duane Wright routinely patrols portions of Cleveland and Centerville townships where Sugar Loaf Resort is located, and makes a point of showing up at township board meetings to hear from residents and keep them apprised of local law enforcement issues.

“We’ve seen problems like this at Sugar Loaf Resort for the past four or five years,” Wright said. “I can’t tell you much about an investigation, but I can tell you that we do have a plan for dealing with some of these problems,” the deputy said.

Meanwhile, Cleveland and Centerville townships are also developing their own plans for Sugar Loaf Resort. At the regular monthly meeting of the Cleveland Township Board on Tuesday evening, supervisor Tim Stein reported that he’d participated in a telephone conference call and attended an April 21 meeting with Centerville Township and Leelanau County officials who are working jointly on a plan that might help facilitate redevelopment of the resort.

Working through the county’s Planning and Community Development Department, Cleveland and Centerville townships have secured federal grant funding that will provide them the services of experts from Kansas State University who specialize in brownfield redevelopment. The program is known as the Technical Assistance to Brownfield (TAB) Communities program.

Under Michigan law, any property that is considered “blighted” or “obsolete” may be considered a brownfield – not just environmentally contaminated properties. Involvement of the county’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority makes local governments and private developers eligible for state and federal loans and grants, as well as special tax incentives, that can help pay for environmental testing, cleanup and redevelopment of a brownfield. Sugar Loaf Resort has been closed for skiing since March 2000.

Stein said he’d also attended a Land Bank Authority seminar held recently at the county government center. The county’s newly formed Land Bank Authority is empowered to take ownership of tax-foreclosed properties after no one else offers to pay the taxes or purchase the property. The Land Bank works closely with Brownfield authorities to help redevelop such properties and return them to local tax rolls.

Wickstrom has not paid property taxes on the resort since 2006. If she doesn’t pay 2007 property taxes next year, the county could legally take ownership of the resort after March 31, 2010.

Stein said the TAB team from Kansas is slated to visit Leelanau County next month and will work with county and township officials to develop a plan for Sugar Loaf Resort. The group will meet June 24-25 in the schoolhouse at the Benchwarmers restaurant in Maple City. Township planners, meanwhile, have begun work on “sub-plans” for their respective township Master Plans that will suggest zoning requirements for the “recreation districts” in the two townships, specifically the Sugar Loaf property.

Wickstrom, meanwhile, has her Sugar Loaf Resort property up for sale – with no buyers apparently in sight.

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