Northern Michigan resort agrees to government oversight

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News
Victorian-era homes in the Methodist enclave of Bay View, Michigan.

The federal government will oversee a northern Michigan resort that, until recently, prohibited non-Christians from buying a home there.

The Bay View Association settled a federal lawsuit by agreeing to have the Department of Justice monitor home purchases for five years.

The lawsuit was filed in 2017 by several residents who said a then-bylaw limiting home purchases to Christians was illegal. The bylaw was removed last year after a vote by residents.

The association and lawsuit plaintiffs agreed to a consent decree Monday that, along with the government oversight, eliminates a requirement that a majority of the association’s board of trustees be members of the United Methodist Church.

The decree, which is expected to be approved by a judge in several weeks, said Bay View’s advertisements and application materials must state that it doesn’t discriminate.

The settlement calls for the association to pay the plaintiffs $75,000 in lawyer’s fees.

Don Duquette, one of the plaintiffs, said he was pleased with the agreement and even happier the resort can put the nettlesome issue behind it.  

Don Duquette stands near his 1884 octagonal home Thursday, June 14, 2018 in the enclave of Bay View.

“The feeling is overwhelmingly one of relief,” he said. “Our membership controversy is at an end.”

The association said it was glad the decree allowed it to keep its Christian programs and activities.

In a letter to association members, the trustee board said the lawsuit sought to classify Bay View as a government entity, which, if successful, would have prohibited it from having Christian programs.

The board believed it would have won the legal fight but worried about the ramifications of a loss.

“An adverse ruling would have been devastating,” wrote the board.

Board president Jon Chism said he was happy with the agreement. Like Duquette, he was eager to put the controversy behind him.

“We believe they (agreements) will be positively received throughout Bay View and allow us to focus on reconciliation,” he said.

The summer resort, which is just northeast of Petoskey, has been around for 144 years. It offers seminars, sermons and the performing arts.

But some members have long been bothered by its requirement that homeowners must be “of Christian persuasion.”

Besides the lawsuit in 2017, they also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD ruled last year that Bay View failed to prove it’s exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination.

In a joint statement, the plaintiffs said they had never wanted the legal fight to get this far. They said they only filed the lawsuit after exhausting all other options.

“Our message has always been one of tolerance, inclusion and love for one’s neighbor,” they said in a prepared statement. “We know that Bay View will be stronger than ever as it aligns with federal and state law.”

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell