Port officials reaffirm commitment to Cedar Vineyard development, continue to prepare financing district
Port Washington officials on Tuesday reiterated their support for the proposed Cedar Vineyard project, with Mayor Tom Mlada issuing a letter expressing the city’s continuing commitment to moving plans for the south-side subdivision forward.
The city is moving ahead with the tax incremental financing district needed to pay for much of the infrastructure to support the development, having recently received final design and cost estimates for the work, City Administrator Mark Grams told the Common Council.
“Now, I think we’re in the ballpark with the TIF financing,” he said. “We’re still fine-tuning some of the numbers.”
The TIF district is likely to be finalized in July or August, Grams said.
In addition, he said, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee added $33 million to the stewardship grant program — a program Gov. Scott Walker had proposed effectively ending all funding for at least the next decade.
“How that affects our project, we don’t know,” Grams said.
Ozaukee County and the City of Port Washington, along with the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, are seeking a grant to help buy 101 acres of the 227-acre Cedar Vineyard property to create a nature preserve that would encompass the edge of the bluff and Cedar Gorge.
Shawn Graff, director of the Land Trust, and Andrew Struck of the Ozaukee County Parks and Planning Department “feel really good about our ability to procure some of those funds,” Mlada said.
Those two components — the TIF district and commitments to buy the nature preserve land — are the major hurdles to be completed before the Highview Group can buy the land for the project, developer Tom Swarthout, president of the Highview Group, told aldermen.
“There’s been a lot of work done behind the scenes,” Swarthout said. “We have a financial partner in place.”
A market study has been completed, he said, and it shows that the 73 home sites could be purchased within three years instead of the four years indicated in a preliminary analysis.
“The market is coming back in a big way,” Swarthout said.
Nine people have reserved lots in the subdivision even though there’s been no advertising of the project, Swarthout added. Three of the potential buyers are from out of state, he said, and the buyers span the ages, ranging from a family with an 18-month-old child to a couple in their early 70s.
Steve and Maria Johnson, who own Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee and Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay and would create the vineyard and winery that encompasses much of the Cedar Vineyard development, have told him they anticipate the Port Washington facility would generate more income — and sales tax revenue — here than in their other wineries, Swarthout said.
“No one is more anxious to start moving dirt and close on a property,” he said.
Once the TIF vote is taken and the county votes to commit funding for the nature preserve — something county leaders have said will occur after the TIF is approved — Highview Group will purchase the property from Waukesha State Bank.
“We’d like to get a vote as soon as possible,” Swarthout said, adding he could envision closing on the land purchase as early as July.
Waukesha State Bank acquired the land after foreclosing. VK Development, the previous owner, had proposed a massive development on the property more than a decade ago but never moved forward with its plans.
The city and Swarthout were expected to update the Ozaukee County Board on the subdivision work Wednesday.
“We’ve got a lot of people over there who support this and want to keep it moving forward,” Ald. Dan Becker, who is also a county supervisor, said. “I like that progress continues to be made, the dominoes continue to fall.”
He noted that the county has enough sponsors of the original resolution supporting purchase of the nature preserve to pass the funding measure.
“If you want to talk about a return on investment, there’s nothing that comes close to this,” Becker said, citing the fact the project is sensitive to the environment, ensures public access to the beach, offers high-end, low density development and will bring in significant sales tax revenue.
“Truly, we can think of no better project to serve as a gateway to our great city,” Mlada said. “This is not your ordinary residential development.”