Firm’s purchase of 227 acres on Port’s south side for Cedar Vineyard project expected to be done by end of year
Tom Swarthout, president of the Highview Group, said Tuesday he will complete the purchase of 227 acres on Port Washington’s far southeast side for the proposed Cedar Vineyard development by the new year.
“We’ll be closing before the end of the year,” Swarthout said. “It’s all coming together. We’re just wrapping up the final details.”
Swarthout said the engineering for the subdivision is virtually completed, his contractor has given him preliminary budget numbers that fall into line with his estimates and his financing is in place.
The Highview Group is purchasing 227 acres off Highway C, land once slated for a high-intensity subdivision by the VK Development. The developer plans to create 82 half-acre lots on the land, with a vineyard planned along Highway C and a winery created on the west side of Highway C south of Stonecroft Drive.
A 101-acre nature preserve will also be created that encompasses Cedar Gorge and roughly 150 feet of land along the Lake Michigan bluff. This property will be acquired by the Highview Group and within minutes sold to the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which has received grants to cover the $2 million purchase price.
“It’s a very unique project,” Land Trust Executive Director Tom Stolp said. “It’s an exciting project, unique in terms of the land that will be preserved, and we’re really excited to be part of this.”
The project will be a significant acquisition of sensitive land as well as the bluff, Stolp said, and will be the largest conservation development the Land Trust has been involved with.
Stolp said Swarthout met with the Land Trust recently to update them on the status of the project.
“It’s all on a good timeline,” he said. “Everything’s on track.”
While Swarthout had originally hoped to buy the land and begin work on the subdivision by now, he said that a variety of issues have slowed the development.
Many are paperwork issues, Swarthout said, as well as work lining up financing.
“There’s certainly a higher bar today in lending than there was 10 years ago,” he said. “Vacant land is very challenging to get funding for. Lending institutions were really burned in the downturn, so they’re really cautious.”
There’s also been a significant amount of coordination between the partners in the project, including the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Ozaukee County, the City of Port, investors and lenders, Swarthout said.
“Everything has to close at once to qualify for the grant money, and that creates angst with some of the lawyers,” he said.
Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada said developers often project a quicker timeline than is practical.
“I think it’s about getting things done, and getting them done right,” Mlada said. “And that takes time.”
He noted that the Port Harbour Lights condominium development in downtown took close to three years before work on the project began — “and that was a project just between the developer and the city. This project has many more moving parts.”
It’s been frustrating to drive by the site without being able to put a shovel in the ground yet, Swarthout admitted.
But he said that plans are in place to begin work on utilities for the site “right after the first of the year.”
“We’re trying to get a jump start on the spring,” Swarthout said. “You’re going to see a lot of action over the next several months.”
By late spring or early summer, he said, construction will start on several model homes in the subdivision.
“We think it’s important to set a standard for the subdivision,” Swarthout said. “We expect these homes not to be big, ostentatious houses.
“We don’t necessarily want big. We want right-sized houses. Something that’s classic. I think everyone should have the freedom to build their own home, but you want individual homes that fit the perspective of the site, especially when they back up to the lake or gorge.”
Architectural guidelines and covenants for the subdivision are already in place, Swarthout noted.
Prospective homeowners have already reserved 14 lots in the subdivision, he said.
“I think there have been at least 10 reservations that are almost a year old,” he said. “We’re excited they see the value in the project and are willing to wait for it.”
Swarthout said that work on the winery and vineyard will also begin in earnest next year. That work, he added, is determining much of the timeline for the project.
“We have to order our vines by the end of December,” he said. “And we have to be able to plant by no later than the end of June — that’s what’s driving the schedule.”
The first vines will be planted on the north end of the subdivision, he said, and to accomplish this, an extensive drainage system will be put in place.
That’s because grapevines like drainage, and the soil on the property is largely hard-packed clay — good for building houses, but in need of work to grow grapes, Swarthout said.
It will be a while before wine is available from the grapes grown on the property, he added.
“It takes three years to get fruit and two years in the barrel,” Swarthout said.
But the winery, which will be built using pieces of several old barns the company has acquired, will be built on the property next year, he said.
The winery and vineyard will be run by Steve and Maria Johnson, who own Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee and Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay.