Port officials to get first look at proposal that includes subdivision, vineyard, 100-acre protected nature area
A mixed-use development that includes a vineyard, residential subdivision and a large nature preserve on the former VK Development land on Port Washington’s south side will be presented to the city’s Plan Commission at its 7 p.m. meeting Thursday, Jan. 15.
The plan is also expected to be presented to the Common Council when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20.
“It’s really exciting,” Mayor Tom Mlada said. “The concept this developer has really hits on everything the city thought was important — the right density, public access to the lakefront, bluff stabilization and ensuring the most environmentally sensitive areas are protected.
“It’s a very unique piece of property, and this is a unique proposal.”
City officials would not go into the specifics of the plan, saying they were waiting to receive the final concept plan from the developer, Highview Group Ltd. of Illinois.
But they did say the proposal was a far cry from that proposed by Brookfield developer Vincent Kuttemperoor, who annexed the land to the city in 2000 and proposed a massive residential and commercial development with a hotel and golf course.
Initially, Kuttemperoor said construction would begin within a year, but he delayed work and the housing crisis hit before the first shovel of dirt was turned. Kuttemperoor lost most of his Port land to foreclosure.
Waukesha State Bank advertised the 206-acre parcel in the Wall Street Journal for $18 million in 2013, describing it as “pristine vacant land.”
Although the city has talked to a number of developers interested in the parcel, Highview Group’s plan seems to best meet the city’s needs, said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development.
“It hits on everything the city was looking for as opposed to plans put forth by other parties (who have looked at the land),” he said. “We had some who wanted to buy it for a very dense development. The Nature Conservancy wanted to buy it all for a preserve.”
The city’s goal was a low-density development that would connect with the rest of community, particularly the downtown, and create needed tax base while also protecting environmentally sensitive areas and providing public access, he said.
The proposal for what is being called Cedar Vineyard includes a residential component and a commercial development that will center around a vineyard, Mlada said. The vineyard, which will likely straddle both sides of Highway C, has the potential to become a major tourist destination in the city, he said.
“They said the soils in that area are outstanding for the vineyard,” Mlada noted.
But the plan will also include a major preservation initiative that will involve not just the developer and the city but also the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust and Ozaukee County, Mlada said.
Shawn Graff, executive director of the Land Trust, said the group has been working on the proposal with the city and county for about a year.
“Basically, this deal gives us a shot at purchasing most of the environmentally important parts of this property,” he said. The plan calls for the Land Trust to acquire most of the shoreland and two identified natural areas on the property — a total of about 100 contiguous acres — then deed it to the county, which would maintain it as a nature preserve, Graff said.
“The developer recognizes that there is a need for open space on this property,” he said. “They see open space as a benefit to them and their development plan. And there are certain areas that can’t be developed anyway because of requirements like bluff setbacks.”
The deal is similar to the one used in acquiring Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton, which is just a stone’s throw away from this property, Graff noted.
“Our hope, although it may be 20 years in the future, is to connect this new property with Lion’s Den,” he said. “You can imagine the opportunity to preserve and open up lakefront land to the public.”
Key to the Land Trust’s deal is the group receiving a stewardship grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Graff said the group is working on its application, which is due at the DNR next month.
A preliminary indication on whether the Land Trust will receive the grant is expected in October or November, Graff said, adding the earliest funds would be available would be next February.
A financial contribution from Ozaukee County, which gave $300,000 for the purchase of Lion’s Den, would also be needed, Graff said.
The Town of Grafton also provided $100,000 to buy Lion’s Den, and Port City Administrator Mark Grams said a city contribution is something officials would consider.
One key to the plan is a tax-incremental financing district that would help pay for the extension of sewer and water services to the property, city officials said.
The proposal for Cedar Vineyard comes less than two months after city officials authorized a study to determine how much value a development must bring to the city to justify creation of a south-side TIF district.
The results of that study aren’t expected for another month or so, Grams said.
Mlada said he is excited about the proposal, saying it represents a tremendous opportunity for the city and county.
“This is a viable option for us to consider and discuss,” he said. “The partnership with the developer, the city, county and Land Trust is critical to making it happen.
“This is a great example of what can happen when you get everyone together around the table.”