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Weickardt, supporters say subdivision would be boon to Mequon

Quality, tax base expansion key arguments

Sept. 4, 2013

Mequon — River Club of Mequon owner Tom Weickardt intends to bring back to the Common Council his plans for a 19-home subdivision along the Milwaukee River, plans which he and his supporters throughout the Ville Du Parc neighborhood say will benefit nearby property owners in more ways than one.

After an eight-month court battle between Weickardt, the city and nine families of the Deer Trail Estates subdivision, Ozaukee County Circuit Court Judge Tom Wolfgram ruled that a much-debated open space easement does not grant Deer Trail Estates residents the right to enter a 42-acre lot along the river — the lot Weickardt planned to develop in 2011 before the discovery of the easement put the brakes on his proposal — and that Weickardt can amend the easement so long as he gets approval from the council.

Both the city and Deer Trail Estates residents — represented by 1st District alderman candidate Rob Holtz — have decided not to appeal the ruling, since Wolfgram's decision doesn't touch on any issues regarding development of the 42-acre lot.

That leaves Weickardt and the Common Council at a crossroads of sorts. The council will have to decide whether to approve easement amendments Weickardt plans to submit that would lift development restrictions and allow the construction of the 19-home subdivision. While certain groups of homeowners in the Ville Du Parc neighborhood have decried the proposed development as a violation of their property rights and potential environmental hazard, Weickardt and his supporters throughout Ville Du Parc argue the new homes would exhibit the same level of care shown in the ground-up revitalization of the River Club, boost nearby property values and add to the city's tax base.

"We think what has happened over the years has been positive for our neighborhood, our home values and the whole city," said Ville Du Parc resident Paul Giescher, speaking alongside a number of Weickardt's supporters in an interview last week. "Anyone who walks into the River Club now, compared to what it was before — it's night and day. We've got a wonderful thing going on."

At the same time, Weickardt is offering Deer Trail Estates residents an approximately half-acre park and Milwaukee River boat launch off the end of nearby Oak Shore Lane. The park would be tied to the deeds of Deer Trail Estates homes and be privately owned.

"We're providing them with actual access that the easements don't," Weickardt said, "in exchange for that nice subdivision which will increase property values and enhance the tax base in Mequon."

A difficult course

When he purchased the Mequon Country Club in 2011, Weickardt said his plan was to renovate the clubhouse, develop the 42-acre lot, and resell the club to nearby Concordia University. At the time, the firm that handled the transaction was unaware of the open space easement on the 42-acre lot, Weickardt said.

When it later came to light that Concordia was no longer interested, Weickardt was "full steam into building the club" and his original estimate of a $3 million remodel was beginning to look more like a $10 million venture. It was around that time city employees found the open space easement, halting the development of the subdivision.

The abrupt change of course caused Weickardt to send the entire renovation crew home and consider cutting his losses.

"I was so disillusioned with Mequon," Weickardt said, "that I'd pumped all this money into this place and I expected to make a few bucks back on the development to fund the clubhouse and that was going away."

Yet, the support of then-Mayor Curt Gielow, and his wife — who told him in no uncertain terms that he wasn't the quitting type — compelled him to continue his gamble. By the time his ground-to-ceiling renovations were complete, Weickardt had poured nearly $14 million — a considerable chunk of his fortune — into the River Club.

The gamble has paid off.

Weickardt reports that membership has grown substantially under his ownership. By growing business through the public Nines Restaurant and increasing rentals of the banquet hall, Weickardt said he has been able to push down the cost of memberships relative to area clubs and expand into a more family-friendly country club business.

"It's part of the overall vision to make this club viable," Weickardt said. "In the golf world it's tough."

While Weickardt has settled with his title insurer to reclaim the cost of the 42-acre lot, he said the profit from the proposed subdivision could be important to the long-term success of the River Club, "and not having some of that tremendous exposure that my family has. Getting some of the cash out. I can't afford to lose 13, 14 million dollars on this."

Support gained

Weickardt's all-out investment in the River Club has won him the support of a number of homeowners in the Ville Du Parc neighborhood, who have seen the run-down Mequon Country Club come back to life.

"I had discussions with people who were wondering if they should sell," Ville Du Parc homeowner Matt Peoplis said of the atmosphere during the Mequon Country Club days. "Houses are selling again. The prices are coming back up. People are remodeling and landscaping. It brought a stability back that was lacking for years."

Weickardt's supporters say the subdivision would help grow the tax base to help the city keep up with increasing operating costs, and that they trust Weickardt to build quality houses.

"The council and city leaders could act as leaders and come up with a small development, and make it a model for how you bring development into an area," Giescher said. "...They need to look at it with a set of open eyes and work with (Weickardt) on a solution that's acceptable to both."

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