Secret bidder says he is prepared to buy, develop preserve land

‘Interested buyer’ plans to exercise option to purchase property if Land Trust can’t without grant

OZAUKEE WASHINGTON LAND TRUST Executive Director Tom Stolp has vowed to keep working to acquire 131 acres on Port Washington’s south side for the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve, but a private buyer is also trying to buy the land. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

The anonymous person interested in the 131 acres on Port Washington’s far south side that is slated to become Cedar Gorge Nature Preserve is prepared to purchase and develop the Lake Michigan bluff land, he wrote in a letter sent to city and county officials and the “Ozaukee County community” Tuesday after discussions with State Rep. Rob Brooks.

The man, who signed the letter “Interested Buyer” describes himself as a successful businessperson and Wisconsin native who attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison who says he wants to buy the land and develop it “in an environmentally sensitive way.”

“Having spent a large portion of my life outdoors, I have a very real appreciation for nature, the environment and the need to protect it over time,” he states, adding he is a longtime visitor to the nearby Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve. 

Brooks forwarded letters about the issue from both the potential buyer and his attorney, Lane Ruhland, who in 2020 represented the campaign of former President Donald Trump and was also involved in rapper Kanye West’s quest to get on the presidential ballot in Wisconsin, to Ozaukee Press.

The potential buyer said he is ready to buy the land, noting he won’t rely on investors or a bank to complete a development plan that’s agreed to by the City of Port and the county. He added that the multimillion-dollar project will focus on using local contractors, naming companies like Dave’s Excavating, Harbor City Plumbing and JJ’s Landscaping as examples.

He noted that a previous development plan called for 37 lots on the 131-acre property, and said that would generate $500,000 in taxes annually.

If the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust acquires the property and turns it over to the county as a park, he says, there will be maintenance expenses and no taxes will be generated by the land.

“If OWLT can raise the necessary funds from private sources to buy the land, so be it,” he wrote. “But a private/public partnership with the City of Port Washington and Ozaukee County can protect the bluffs and gorge, generate a large economic benefit for the local contractors and businesses while also creating a large and growing perpetual tax revenue stream.”

Tom Stolp, executive director of the Land Trust, has said the parcel is a priority for the organization, noting it is an important, pristine piece of land containing three-quarters of a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline and bluffs as well as the Cedar Heights Gorge and surrounding wetlands and white cedar woods that should be preserved for the public, adding it’s also an important habitat for wildlife and birds along the Lake Michigan flyway.

Brooks, a Republican from Saukville, said he sought out the prospective buyer after receiving roughly 100 calls and letters from constituents concerned about the property and the Joint Finance Committee’s failure to approve a $1.6 million stewardship grant for Ozaukee Washington Land Trust to purchase the property.

“My concern was is this person viable? What does this person want to do?” Brooks said, adding his role was to find out why the Land Trust grant was being held up and share that knowledge with the public.

“I want to make it clear I’m not representing anyone,” he said. “I am responding to hundreds of people saying I don’t know anything. The public and our local elected officials deserve to have as much information as possible regarding this project in order to make informed decisions.”

Brooks noted that the prospective buyer hired lobbyist Scott Meyer to let the Joint Finance Committee know he wants to buy the land and develop it in an environmentally sensitive way. 

But, he said, the buyer is not the person who anonymously lodged a concern and stopped the committee from taking action on the grant.

The committee has not taken action on the stewardship grant since and Sen. Duey Stroebel of Cedarburg, a member of the committee, said he believes the matter is dead.

Brooks said he persuaded the prospective buyer to reach out to officials and the public to lay out his intentions, saying then people can make up their own minds about what is the best use for the property.

“The public’s been clamoring for transparency,” Brooks said.

That’s especially true, he said, because the County Board is likely to consider additional funding for the purchase of the property by the Land Trust in the coming weeks.

The prospective buyer, Brooks said, wants to remain anonymous until he owns the land, and Ruhland described him as a private businessman and committed, invested buyer who will go public when it is appropriate.  

Ruhland questioned any attempt by the county to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to help the Land Trust purchase the property.

Although the land has been for sale for almost a decade, Brooks said the prospective buyer didn’t act until now because “the timing’s right.”

Brooks said the prospective buyer has an option to buy the property if the Land Trust doesn’t complete the purchase.

“He’s prepared to do that the next day,” Brooks said.” He has the money in hand. He is ready to go.”

The man is prepared to fund the project himself, Brooks said, without the need for the tax incremental financing district or other public funding.

“He has no intention of asking for a TIF of any kind. It all goes on the tax rolls immediately,” Brooks said, adding, “I can’t guarantee there won’t be a request for TIF down the road.”

The buyer is talking about a development similar to the former Cedar Vineyard plan for the property in that it would be low density with environmental corridors and the gorge preserved, noting the city and county have already indicated that this is the type of plan they would accept, Brooks said. 

“They don’t have blueprints and plans yet because they don’t own the land,” he said. “No developer is going to invest that kind of money without knowing they can buy the land.”

It is not known if the prospective buyer is the same person who purchased a neighboring property to the north that was once part of the proposed Cedar Vineyard development. That parcel was sold last summer to PJ and HF LLC.

The prospective buyer is receptive to public access to the bluff and lakefront, Brooks said, noting that’s been important to the city and county.

“If any developer out there doesn’t include those things, I think it should be a non-starter,” he added.

Brooks said he believes the potential buyer is willing to work with the Land Trust on preserving the environmentally sensitive areas of the property, but said right now that’s not likely to happen since both want to buy the land.

Even if he doesn’t work with the Land Trust, Brooks said, the land could be preserved through other methods, including conservation easements or zoning.

Even if he is able to obtain the property, Brooks said, given current economic conditions it could take years before any development begins.


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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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