City to have bluff property appraised as plans for nearby vineyard project progress
Port Washington is bracing for a lakefront building boom as officials begin the process to sell a prime piece of city-owned land off Highway C.
The Common Council on Tuesday agreed to get a formal appraisal of the value of a roughly 44-acre parcel east of Highway C — the first step in marketing the land, which the city has eyed as an ideal site for a subdivision.
City Administrator Mark Grams said two parties have approached the city about the property in recent months, prompting aldermen to seek the appraisal.
That move comes just weeks after the city approved the concept plan for Cedar Vineyard, which calls for 73 home sites, a vineyard and winery and a 100-acre preserve farther south on Highway C.
The city is expected to begin work on a tax-incremental financing district that would facilitate that development next month, Grams said.
“It’s really an exciting time,” Mayor Tom Mlada said.
Tuesday’s Common Council discussion revolved around the 44-acre site, which the city acquired as part of a sweeping agreement in which officials agreed to back the conversion of the We Energies power plant from coal to natural gas.
The city had sought cost estimates from two appraisers for an appraisal of the property, but only one offered a price of between $500 and $1,000.
The other, Peter Didier of Re/Max United, offered an estimated value of the bluff land of between $2 million and $2.5 million, Grams said.
Both appraisers noted that setting a value for the land would be difficult because there are few comparables in the area, he added.
In a letter to the city, Didier noted that the property has about 2,300 feet of lake frontage that would allow the development of 23 100-foot-wide lots, similar to those on Noridge Trail. Those lots, he said, were selling in the $300,000 range before the recession but now sell in the low $200,000 range.
The average sale price for a lot on the city land is likely to be $300,000, Didier said, noting the total value of the lots would then be $6.9 million.
After development costs are subtracted, he came up with his valuation, Grams said.
Ald. Bill Driscoll said he did not believe a formal appraisal was needed.
“I think what we’ve been given from Pete is as good as we’re going to get,” he said. “I can’t imagine we’re going to get anything better by paying for it.”
But Ald. Doug Biggs disagreed, saying a formal appraisal is necessary so the city can properly evaluate any offer for the land.
“I think it’s important we have a good idea of the value of the land before making a final sale decision,” he said.
The city can agree to sell the land for less than the appraised price if the proposed development offers other benefits to the community.
City Atty. Eric Eberhardt agreed an appraisal is needed, saying, “I don’t know how you can sell a car, a boat or a multi-million-dollar piece of property without knowing what it’s worth.
“Do it — that’s all I’m saying. It’s public property and you want to get it right. You don’t want to be surprised later.”
Aldermen agreed to get a formal appraisal, saying it is needed so any offers the city receives can be weighed against it.
When asked if any offers for the property are imminent, Grams said, “That might be a little strong. Is there interest in the property? Yes.”
Grams said the city has been approached by two parties — one in the last six months and the other in the last month — to discuss the parcel. The two have different concepts for the land that combine business and residential uses, he said.
The proposals would complement the Cedar Vineyard development, Grams said.
The Cedar Vineyard proposal is likely to spur more interest in the city’s land, Mlada said.
“It’s really outstanding land,” he said. “I think some of what we’re doing with Cedar Vineyard is setting the stage for it.
“You don’t want somebody to say, ‘How many units can we jam in there.’ I think we’re setting the standards. Developers know we’re looking for the right kind of development in terms of density. Connectivity to downtown is a long-term goal. It would be great to have some public access along the bluff and beach.”
The city hasn’t yet talked about how it wants to sell the land, whether to put it out for bids or seek a request for proposals from developers, Mlada added.
“We’re just in the exploring mode right now,” he said.
Any development on the city-owned land would likely add significantly to the tax base, but it probably wouldn’t be included in the TIF that’s expected to be created for the Cedar Vineyard development, officials said.
In a TIF district, increased taxes that result from new development are used to pay for infrastructure costs, such as the extension of sewer and water to the Cedar Vineyard development.
A preliminary analysis of the proposed TIF district is expected to be presented to the council when it meets Wednesday, Feb. 18, Grams said, with a formal report ready for action on March 3.
If the council accepts the report and moves ahead with the district, a TIF committee that includes representatives of the city, Ozaukee County, Port Washington-Saukville School District and Milwaukee Area Technical College, as well as an at-large member, would be created, Grams said.
The TIF district would need to be approved by the committee before it is implemented, he said, adding that the process of creating a TIF district takes about three months.