Grants hang in balance as subdivision delay persists

Extensions may be needed if county, Land Trust are to retain million-dollar allocations for Cedar Vineyards in Port
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

One of the two grants needed  to purchase a 101-acre nature preserve in the proposed Cedar Vineyard subdivision on Port Washington’s southeast side is set to expire at the end of September.

A Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources stewardship grant awarded to the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust that would provide $1 million, or half the funds needed to buy the preserve is set to expire Sept. 30, but DNR grant manager Jennifer Gihring said it is likely to be extended.

“We do have the flexibility to do that,” Gihring said. “We are usually very open to time extensions for good cause. Most of the delay here has been due to the complexity of all the moving parts (of the deal).

“At this point, we’re not concerned about the project. We believe it’s going to happen. There have been an awful lot of complications, but I have every bit of faith it will close.”

The DNR needs to talk to the Land Trust about an extension if it’s needed, she said, but Gihring said officials from the nonprofit agency have been “very good about keeping us up to date about the project.

“The goal is to put these public funds to good use.”

In this case, the good use is the purchase of the Cedar Heights-Clay Banks Nature Area, which would intersect the residential portions of the planned Cedar Vineyard subdivision off Highway C on Port Washington’s far south side.

The subdivision was approved by the City of Port in 2015, with the developer saying he expected to break ground the following spring. A closing date was set for last December, but issues with the appraisal forced that to be delayed.

The nature preserve is an integral component of the Cedar Vineyard development, which would include 82 half-acre lots surrounded by a vineyard along Highway C and a winery on the west side of Highway C south of Stonecroft Drive.

The plan is to have the Highview Group, which is developing the subdivision, purchase the entire 227-acre parcel from Waukesha State Bank and almost immediately sell the preserve land to the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

The Land Trust would then transfer the preserve to Ozaukee County, which would hold it in perpetuity.

Gihring said the project is valued because it would preserve an ecologically valuable piece of land in an area near an urban area.

While half the funds for the purchase of the nature preserve would come from the stewardship grant, the other $1 million comes from a Wisconsin Coastal Management grant awarded to Ozaukee County.

That grant will expire at the end of the year, Ozaukee County Director of Planning and Parks Andrew Struck said. 

As a condition of the grant being extended until then, developer Tom Swarthout needs to meet monthly “milestones” with the end goal being a closing date at the end of 2018, Struck said, adding most of these milestones are documents needed to facilitate the purchase.

Swarthout has said he would like to finalize the purchase even sooner than the end of the year, he added..

“I know he’s trying to accelerate the timeline,” Struck said. “He would like to see ground moved by the end of the year.”

If needed, Struck said, he will ask for another extension for the grant.

“We’re getting closer. A project like this with a lot of partners at the table, there are a lot of moving pieces,” Struck said. “And because it’s tied to the development, that makes it even more complex.”

 Swarthout said Wednesday that his offer to purchase the property from Waukesha State Bank remains in effect and he hopes to complete the sale in the next month.

It’s been a challenge to raise the funds and complete the transaction, he said, but he is working with new investors who are enthused about the project and recognize how unique the opportunity is.

“It’s taken us longer than we expected, but we think we have accomplished the goal,” Swarthout said. “At the end of the day, we’re preserving 200 acres of really valuable land for the public.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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