PRESS EDITORIAL: A hope for redemption in the VK affair

In the Land Trust we trust.

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust has earned the trust of all who understand the importance of the preservation and conservation of valuable natural areas by protecting an amazing total of more than 6,800 acres of land in the two counties.

Now the Land Trust is poised to make its most significant contribution to saving the natural landscape in its 26-year history by acquiring a vast tract of Lake Michigan shore land.

If the Land Trust pulls this off, it will take 131 acres of land of remarkable natural character off of the real estate market and, in effect, give it to the public for the enjoyment of nature in perpetuity.

If the initiative is successful, it may also save the City of Port Washington’s adventure in urban sprawl from being regarded by history as a complete fiasco.

The land is part of the great annexation two decades ago of Town of Grafton countryside by the city at the behest of the VK Development company. It was an illogical expansion of the city, a non-contiguous leap from the existing city limit to a rural area far from sewer and water services—in other words, a classic exercise in urban sprawl.

VK’s promise of an enormous residential and commercial investment that would inflate the city tax base with expensive homes, businesses, hotels and even a marina seduced Port officials, even though the development would be so distant from the city center that, as an Ozaukee Press editorial worried at the time, it could end up as “an isolated Mequonesque enclave without ties to the Port Washington community.”

That all became irrelevant when VK went bust and the land was repossessed by lenders. Now the bank that owns it has a plan with the potential to bring the VK affair to a positive close. Waukesha State Bank proposes to sell the 79 acres closest to the city proper for a residential development and offer 131 acres for sale to the Land Trust.

The land earmarked as a possible nature preserve would not be a gift to the Land Trust. It would have to be purchased, and as part of the diminishing stock of undeveloped lakeshore land in southeastern Wisconsin, it is dear. It would require the biggest investment in the Land Trust’s history, but its value as protected nature is priceless. It lies close to Lion’s Den Gorge and shares much of the character, as well as the proximity to the lake, of that marvelous nature preserve.

Lion’s Den is a stand-out achievement in the Land Trust’s record of protecting natural land, a beautiful presentation of nature in the raw with its forests, cliffs, deep erosions and stunning vistas that attracts thousands of visitors each year. The preserve is the successful result of a partnership with Ozaukee County, which now owns the gorge area as a county park.

The Land Trust has long had an interest in the former VK land and had worked with the county to secure grants for a nature preserve in a development called Cedar Vineyard. That development concept had a lot going for it as a rather compact residential subdivision with an adjacent natural area and the novel addition of a working vineyard and winery.

Years of effort by the would-be developer to finance the plan, buoyed by unwarranted optimism expressed repeatedly by Port Washington officials, finally came to naught in 2019.

The land now set to be sold to a development company will likely become a rather ordinary subdivision. The part of the bank’s plan that could lead to the nature preserve, on the other hand, is exciting in its potential as a public benefit.

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust has proved to be extremely effective at leveraging state grants for land preservation, and that ability will be one of the keys to making the new initiative work. But the organization will need much help, including financial contributions from other nonprofits and the public, as well as assistance from Ozaukee County.

Beyond that, there is an onus on the City of Port Washington to do what it can to facilitate the purchase and protection of the land, not only to benefit its own residents, but to close the books on the VK venture on a positive note.


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Ozaukee Press

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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