Unable to sell all of Misty Isle Farms to a single buyer despite more than a decade of intermittent effort, the owners of the sprawling Vashon estate are now having some success selling it off in pieces.
A total of about 60 acres was sold to four separate buyers in June, county records show. According to real estate listings, sales are pending for another two more parcels totaling 18 acres — with one of the parcels being the site of the old Wax Orchard fruit processing cannery.
Another two parcels, made up of 18.66 acres of pasture at the northeast corner of Wax Orchard Road and 232nd, are currently listed for sale for $907,250.
The listed parcels and recently sold properties — mostly pasture on the western edge of the estate along Wax Orchard Road — represent only a fraction of Misty Isle Farms.
Over the years its owner, the late Thomas Stewart, accumulated 47 tax parcels totaling 525 acres. Stewart-related entities continue to control about 80 percent of that acreage.
Misty Isles Farms is bounded, roughly, by Southwest 220th Street on the north, 115th Avenue Southwest on the east, Southwest 232nd Street on the south, and Wax Orchard Road on the west. It is bisected by Old Mill Road.
In 2007, the entire estate was listed for a whopping $125 million, making the Vashon ranch tied as the second most expensive single-family property listing in the United States, behind a storied mansion estate in Beverly Hills once owned by William Randolph Hearst.
As the Great Recession hit and years passed, the asking price dropped dramatically – to $43 million in 2014, then $28 million in 2017, before the owners decided to market the property in smaller pieces.
According to a 2014 sales video — made to market the entire property —Misty Isle Farms featured a 6,500-square-foot main house, eight other residences, a world-class botanical garden and arboretum, eight miles of trails, a pool, a PGA-class driving range and putting green, an artificial 3-acre lake, a 12,000-square-foot indoor arena, a 2,200-foot airstrip, a helipad, and acres of pasture and forest.
Collectively, the recent transactions are the most significant sales at Misty Isle since Stewart first put the entire estate on the market. What’s more, according to Windermere realtor Linda Bianchi, who represented some of the buyers involved, some of the sales marked the highest price ever paid for land on Vashon.
According to county records, the only other sale came in 2018, when 44 acres at the ranch’s southern tip, across 232nd Street from the bulk of the estate, sold for $900,000.
Brad Vancour, the listing agent who works for Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty, declined to comment on the recent sales or future plans to market more of the property.
But Bianchi said she thought the Stewart family had simply decided that it would be wiser to break up the property.
“The market is strong, and land is selling,” she said.
Portions of the estate east of Old Mill, which included Stewart’s former home, are not listed for sale. Bianchi said she did not know the reason this property wasn’t listed.
“Perhaps the family could choose to keep it,” she said.
The recent sales all are in the less-developed western half of the estate and include most of its frontage on Wax Orchard Road. According to county records:• Claire and Ryan McShane of Seattle bought 22.57 acres of pasture for $1.1 million.
- Carla and Patrick McShane of Eugene, Ore., bought 15.97 acres of pasture for $718,200.
- Steven Jensen and Mark Grace of Vashon bought two parcels totaling 16.25 acres for $1,139,900. One parcel has an older, 900-square-foot house.
- Adrianne and Matthew Williams, formerly of Tacoma, bought 5.15 acres with an older, 4,300-square-foot house for $925,000.
The development potential of the properties that have already been sold is limited. Minimum legal lot sizes are either five or 10 acres.
What’s more, the three undeveloped parcels have been enrolled since 1992 in King County’s Farmland Preservation Program, according to county records. That precludes most development, but the agreements with the county do allow the owner of each parcel to build one house.
Bianchi said she believed that the recent buyers would be excellent stewards of the property. All but Jensen had immediate plans to eventually live on their newly purchased property, she added.
Matthew and Adrianne Williams, who bought a 5.15-acre parcel with an older, 4,300-square-foot house, have already moved with their family from Brown’s Point, in northeast Tacoma, onto their property.
Matthew, who owns a company that commissions and services commercial equipment for restaurants, said the family has had an adventurous summer on the island, splitting their time between a camper trailer parked on their new property and the property’s farmhouse, which is undergoing renovations.
The family is eager, he said, to become a part of their new community, and were drawn to Vashon because of “its rural feel, its town core, and its [proximity] to Seattle and Tacoma.” His three children, he said, were excited to attend Chautauqua Elementary and McMurray Middle School in the fall.
As for his plans for the property, he said, “We want to honor the previous owners — we’re just excited to be a part of it and not looking to reinvent it.”
Another buyer, Jensen, said that he was currently in an “exploratory phase” of deciding what to do with his property, but said he wanted to maintain as much open space as possible on the acreage.
“I moved to Vashon as my sanctuary, not to exploit it,” he said.
Jensen said that he and his husband, Grace, who split their time between Vashon and the Bay Area, have lived mostly on Vashon throughout the pandemic and have come to love the island more than ever in the past 16 months.
Jensen is a personal manager for well-known musical acts; Grace is a senior vice president and financial advisor to families and individuals at Morgan Stanley.
Jensen is also a major donor to the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, who says he fully supports King County’s current efforts to purchase and preserve large portions of Misty Isle Farms.
King County has been interested in buying all of the western half of Misty Isle Farms, including the recently sold properties, for conservation purposes.
In a 2019 application to the county’s Conservation Futures program, which funds open space acquisition, the County Water and Land Resources Division said it hoped to eventually purchase 228 acres of Misty Isle – everything west of Old Mill Road.
The acquisition “would preserve farmland, increase recreational opportunities and protect ecological values,” the application said, citing the property’s habitats including pasture, streams and wetlands, as well as 75 acres of deciduous, coniferous and mixed forest.
However, the division’s application sought money that year to help buy only 93 acres – mostly bordering Old Mill Road – that did not include the recently sold properties. The parcels the county targeted instead included the pasture that is home to the annual Vashon Sheepdog Classic, and much of the forested corridor of Fisher Creek, a stream that supports cutthroat trout, coho and chum salmon.
Conservation Futures approved $2.6 million toward the purchase in 2020.
Greg Rabourn, of King County Water and Land Resources Division, told The Beachcomber that the county is continuing to pursue preserving this portion of the Fisher Creek watershed and that the county’s interests are not affected by the recent sales.
However, he declined to comment further, saying the county was currently engaged in negotiations.
Misty Isle Farms and its fate have been a topic of great interest on Vashon for years. Over several decades, Stewart, who died in a helicopter crash in Arizona in 2010, developed what the estate’s real-estate agents have called “an island paradise.”
At one point a widely circulated rumor had actor Johnny Depp buying the compound — fake news debunked in a 2009 Beachcomber article. Other local rumors about the property pegged Tom Cruise as the purported buyer; then John Travolta, then Cruise and Travolta together, with an eye toward making it a Church of Scientology retreat.
Stewart, the founder of the food services conglomerate Services Group of America, was a major Republican donor who invited Republican conservative luminaries including Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott to be the guests of honor at lavish annual GOP picnics held at the estate.
On Vashon, he was also known for charitable acts including funding Vashon’s Fourth of July fireworks show over Quartermaster Harbor.
In the mid to late 1990s, he ran afoul of Seattle, state and federal campaign laws. In 1998, he was found guilty of federal charges that he had laundered $100,000 in campaign contributions to GOP candidates through his company’s employees. He was ordered to pay $5 million in fines and serve 60 days of house arrest for his crime — the third-largest penalty in U.S. history for a violation of that kind at the time.
Stewart moved his legal residence and company headquarters to Arizona in 2005 after the Washington Legislature approved a new inheritance tax.
He put Misty Isle Farms up for sale two years later.