Officials fine-tuning TIF plan for Cedar Vineyard project that also needs $1 million from county to create park
Port Washington officials said Tuesday that a tax incremental financing district needed for the proposed Cedar Vineyard subdivision on the city’s far south side is expected to be approved in June.
And Ozaukee County officials are expected to move quickly after that — perhaps the following day, depending on the timing — to vote on a funding resolution that would allocate as much as $1 million to help purchase more than a mile of shoreland and an environmentally sensitive area of the subdivision to create a public park.
The project had appeared to be on a fast track after it was proposed in January, but city and county officials said that there are practical considerations that have slowed the process down.
City officials are still working to determine cost estimates for the TIF district, particularly the price of extending sewer and water service to the subdivision, and considering the borders of the district.
“At one point, there was a rush to this,” said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development. “We’re not trying to stall it at all. It’s just not ready.”
And county officials, who originally said the funding resolution could come to a vote in April, now say they won’t act on the matter until the TIF district is established.
County Administrator Tom Meaux said a cost-sharing agreement will be part of the TIF plan, and that needs to be in place before the vote.
“It’s integral to the deal,” he said.
County Supr. Dan Becker, who is also a City of Port Washington alderman, said the reason for timing is two-fold.
It will demonstrate the city’s commitment to the project, Becker said.
“Everything will be done at the city level, and then the county can vote on its portion of the project,” he said.
It will also allow the county to make sure as many supervisors as possible are on hand to vote, Becker said, noting a two-third vote of the members elect, or 18, supervisors, must approve the funding resolution.
“If you’re not at the meeting, it’s like a no vote,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re voting at a meeting where hopefully we can have 100% attendance.”
It was difficult to schedule an earlier session for the vote, Becker said, because a number of supervisors were on vacation over the Easter holiday.
When the county took its initial vote on funding the 101-acre nature preserve, which includes not only the environmentally sensitive Cedar Gorge but also land along the bluff and beach, 18 supervisors co-sponsored the resolution, Becker noted.
“There is potential to get a few more favorable votes,” he said.
The Cedar Vineyard project has much to offer both the city and county, officials said.
The project calls for 73 home sites, a 100-acre nature conservancy, a vineyard and winery on the former VK Development property. Most of the property lies on the east side of Highway C, with the winery and a small portion of the homes on a parcel west of the highway.
“It’s a great revenue generator,” Becker said. “It’s a low-density, high-end development that will go easy on municipal services. It’s going to be great for tourism, and we’re protecting all that public space.”
Initial plans called for the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, in partnership with the county, to purchase the preserve and deed it to the county.
A state stewardship grant was expected to pay much of the cost, but since Gov. Scott Walker’s budget has thrown this into question, the city and county are being asked to contribute to the purchase.
The county’s $1 million contribution will likely be further reduced by some funding from the stewardship fund, Becker said, as well as a pledge from developer Thomas Swarthout, president of The Highview Group, to pay a total of $325,000 in impact fees.
Becker and Meaux said they are confident the county and city will each support the purchase of the preserve.
“I think it’s going to be something we’ll all be proud of when it’s done,” Meaux said.
The return goes beyond the public property to economics, Becker added.
“This is going to give us a large return on investment,” he said. For example, the county currently receives less than $500 in property taxes from the Cedar Vineyard property, an amount estimated to increase to between $60,000 and $70,000 when it is developed.
And the city, he said, will gain even more in property taxes.
City officials, who at one point said they would consider financing the county’s share of the preserve through the TIF district if the County Board didn’t approve the funding, have backed off from that stance.
“It has got to be a partnership,” Tetzlaff said. “It’s going to be a county park.”
City Administrator Mark Grams said, “It’s still an option, but it all comes down to finances.”
City officials are continuing work on the TIF project plan, which will include the city’s $1 million share of the cost of buying the preserve.
Tetzlaff said the city is being careful to ensure the TIF district isn’t a burden on taxpayers. However, he said, it is necessary to provide the utilities needed for the subdivision.
“It’s just an enormous cost to get the sewer and water done,” he said, noting initial estimates were between $5 million and $6 million.
Officials are looking at where to best place a small lift station on the south side of the development to minimize the costs, Tetzlaff said.
The city is also looking at the boundaries of the district, he said, noting the city’s TIF consultant recommended incorporating some industrial park land into the district.
The city has negotiated an agreement with Anchor Bank that would allow the city to connect the Cedar Vineyard property to land in the industrial park, Tetzlaff said.
“We have some opportunities in the industrial park,” he said, noting Construction Forms has talked about expanding in the future and Allen Edmonds owns some property it may want to develop.
Tetzlaff said the Plan Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on the TIF project plan and vote on it as soon as its May 21 meeting.
If it’s not ready for that session, he said, a special meeting could be held in early June.
That would allow the Common Council to act on the plan in June, Tetzlaff said.
After the council approves the plan, it will go to the Joint Review Board — which consists of representatives of the city, county, Port Washington-Saukville School District and Milwaukee Area Technical College Board, as well as one citizen member — for approval.
After that, the plan will go to the Department of Revenue for certification, Tetzlaff said.