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Bank courts new buyers but Cedar Vineyard deal still alive PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 18:55

Port land back on the market, but officials say plan for subdivision, nature preserve moving forward

    Plans for the proposed Cedar Vineyard development on Port Washington’s far south side appeared to be in question last week when the land it is to be built on was listed for sale in the Wall Street Journal, but officials said this week that they are confident the project — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve 100 acres of environmentally sensitive land, ensure public access to the lakefront and bluffs flanked by single-family houses, a vineyard and winery — will move forward.
    “Every action I’m seeing from the developer tells me we’re  close to a closing date,” Tom Stolp, executive director of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, said. “We have our funding in place. I’m excited we’re going to get this done.
    “I think this is a gesture from the bank to cover its bases.”
    “The bank” is Waukesha State Bank, which owns the land and listed it for sale for $18 million Friday in the Journal’s mansion section, touting it as “lakefront property with 240 acres of pristine vacant land and 1.25 miles of continuous Lake Michigan frontage.”
    Keith Van De Laarschot, a commercial banker with Waukesha State Bank, said this is the first time in almost three years the property has been marketed.
    The initial sale agreement with the Highview Group has been extended several times but recently expired, he said.
    “We’re not against their plan if they can pull it together,” Van De Laarschot said. “We love this project. It’s just unfortunate it hasn’t been able to go to closing.”
    He would not comment on whether the bank is continuing to work with the developer.
    Developer Tom Swarthout, president of the Highview Group, said Tuesday that plans for the subdivision are moving ahead.
    “We’re confident we will be able to wrap it up in the next few weeks,” he said. “Everything’s in place.”
    That includes the bank funding and grants, he said, as well as the engineering, contractors and needed permits from the Department of Natural Resources.
    “We continue to move forward,” Swarthout said. “We have continued to meet with the pertinent parties, including the Land Trust, county and city. They’ve known our position.”
    Randy Tetzlaff, Port’s director of planning and development, said the bank president had warned officials they could see the property listed for sale.
    “They’re getting tired of waiting for a closing date,” Tetzlaff said. “We’ve told them they’ve got to be patient. This is a complex deal.”
    In the years since the bank acquired the land from VK Development, which had proposed a massive subdivision there, the Highview Group has been the only firm that has been serious about developing the property, Tetzlaff added.
    The deal to create the Cedar Vineyard subdivision was fostered by officials from the city, Ozaukee County and the Land Trust, who worked with developer Tom Swarthout, president of the Highview Group to come up with a plan that would not only preserve the Cedar Gorge and ensure public access to the lake but also bring needed development to the city.
    It’s a complex deal, officials said, noting the Land Trust and government raised $2 million — a $1 million stewardship grant from the Department of Natural Resources and $1 million from the Wisconsin Coastal Management’s coastal estuarine land conservation program — to purchase the roughly 100-acre nature preserve that will encompass Cedar Gorge. Those funds were raised through grants, and just getting the needed documents approved by the granting agencies took a significant amount of time.
    The City of Port Washington also put in place a tax incremental financing district to help pay for the extension of utilities to the property. Without that, it would be virtually impossible to develop the land, officials said.
    “It is complex and has taken longer than some people expected,” Stolp said, but in the end it will be worth it.
    “This is an innovative development. It is an enlightened development,” he said. “We’re talking about such a huge block of land.”
    The development is important, he said, because it encompasses development alongside a preserve, with the Land Trust and county ensuring the preserve will remain open space in perpetuity.
    And to have a vineyard integrated in a housing development and nature preserve, with the scenic Lake Michigan backdrop that will be accessible to the public makes Cedar Vineyard truly unique, Stolp said.
    “I think we’re on the cusp of something unique and something really neat,” he said. “We remain optimistic, and we’re excited.”
    The delays have been frustrating, Tetzlaff acknowledged, but officials believe the project will go through.
    Swarthout said that 12 of the 82 lots in Cedar Vineyard have been reserved, even though he has not yet purchased the property, and he expects the rest to sell quickly once the land is bought.
    “We’re hoping this is just a little hiccup,” he said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 18:57
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