City set to sell land for massive bluff subdivision

Port officials ready to close on $2.2 million deal for bluff property that will be site of 238-home development

A SIGN AT the entrance to what will become the Prairie’s Edge subdivision on Port Washington’s south bluff is set near the intersection of South Wisconsin Street, seen in the background, and Highway C. The city is expected to sell the land to developer Black Cap Halcyon in the coming week. Press file photo

The City of Port Washington is expected to sell more than 35 acres of south bluff land it owns in the next week, a move that will pave the way for development of the largest subdivision in the community.

The Plan Commission last week approved the final plat for the Prairie’s Edge subdivision, the last step needed before the sale of the land can be completed, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

A closing date has not been set, Grams said Tuesday, but the agreement between the city and Black Cap Halcyon calls for the sale to be completed by July 2.

The Prairie’s Edge subdivision will add almost $60 million to the city’s tax base by building a mix of 238 residential units and 40,000 square feet of commercial space  on what is currently vacant land east of South Wisconsin Street and adjacent to land owned by We Energies.

 Developer Tony Polston has said he wants to break ground on the subdivision this fall, and he plans to complete all three phases of the project within three years.

The first phase of the project, which will develop the center of the property, is expected to include almost 28,000 square feet of commercial space in three buildings, two of them single story structures, while the third would be three stories tall with commercial uses on the first floor and residential units on the top two floors.

Two three-story residential buildings with underground parking would also be part of the first phase, as well as eight cottages with two-car garages.

In all, a total of 156 residential units as well as the cottages would be included in the first phase of the project.

Grams said Polston has told officials that many of the cottages have been reserved and there is a significant amount of interest in the overall project.

That’s likely due to the fact that the land is on the south bluff, he said.

“I believe most, if not every unit will have a view of the lake,” Grams said.

While Grams said Tuesday he believes Polston’s timeline is ambitious — five years may be more realistic, he said, depending on the economy — the subdivision will have a significant impact on the community no matter how long it takes to be completed.

The aesthetics of the area will change as an empty field is converted into housing, but public access to the bluff and south beach are guaranteed with the Prairie’s Edge plan.

And the residents who settle there will provide an expanded customer base for existing businesses in the community, Grams said.

“With it being close to downtown, I think it will have a positive impact on the businesses there,” he said. “With the apartments, townhouses and cottages, there will be more people heading downtown to shop and visit the restaurants.”

He said he believes most of the housing units will be occupied by either young couples or empty nesters, potentially bringing 400 to 500 new residents to the city.

“I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of families,” Grams said, noting that will minimize the impact on local schools.

Polston has said he does not want the businesses that occupy the commercial spaces to compete with those in the downtown, Grams said. Instead, he has talked about such uses as medical offices and a health club.

The project will also add a significant amount of tax base, something that’s important to the community, Grams said.

When completed, Prairie’s Edge is expected to be valued at as much as $60 million.

“That’s a lot of tax base,” Grams said. “When everything is said and done, it will help us keep the tax rate down for everyone.

 “Your tax rate will go down — that’s the biggest effect it will have. I don’t know if it will be significant, but hopefully it will be.”

While the subdivision is expected to be a boon for the city’s tax base, Grams said it may not provide wiggle room in the city’s budget to fund additional programs.  That’s because the state levy limits and expenditure restraint programs still restrict how much money the city spends.

While the programs do allow for increases based on new construction, it’s not a dollar-for-dollar equation, he said.

The subdivision also isn’t expected to cost the city a significant amount in terms of added services, Grams said.

“I don’t think there’s going to be too much,” he said. “The roads are private, so the city’s not maintaining them. They’ll have their own garbage pick up. There will be some emergency services.

“It’s not going to be a drain on the system.”

Although the subdivision will add traffic to Wisconsin Street and Highway C, Grams said he doesn’t think it will overload the roads.

“They’re not all going to be leaving at the same time or coming home at the same time,” he said.

The most immediate impact may be the $2.2 million Black Cap Halcyon is paying for the land, Grams said.

The company is paying for the land in four installments — about $200,000 when the purchase is completed, $1 million when the first building permit is issued for the first phase of the subdivision and $500,000 when the permits for the second and third phases are taken out, Grams said.

The $1.2 million the city is expected to receive this year will pay for a laundry list of capital purchases, he said, including a new tanker truck and an ambulance for the fire department, as well as equipment for the street department and public works departments and improvements at the Niederkorn Library.

The city hasn’t determined how it will use the rest of the money it will receive for the property, Grams said.

The land the city is selling was received from We Energies in 2004 as part of an agreement allowing the utility to convert its plant to natural gas without city objections.  

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