County now poised to purchase large tract of Misty Isle Farms

News of the county’s tentative deal comes as Stewart’s real-estate company is selling off the estate in pieces after attempting unsuccessfully for years to reach a deal with a single buyer.

King County has a tentative deal to buy part of the late Thomas Stewart’s Misty Isle Farms estate, the county’s Vashon land-conservation specialist revealed Monday.

“We are in escrow on the property, working through due diligence, and look forward to celebrating and sharing details at the time the deal closes this fall,” Greg Rabourn said in an email to the Beachcomber, on Monday, shortly before The Beachcomber’s deadline.

Rabourn, who works for King County Water and Land Resources Division, declined to provide additional details.

But the county has been interested in buying chunks of what was once Stewart’s 525-acre estate on Vashon’s west side for years.

In 2020 the county Conservation Futures program, which funds open space acquisition, approved $2.6 million to help buy 93 acres, mostly along the west side of Old Mill Road.

While 15 of those 93 acres were sold to another buyer late last year, the remaining acreage includes the pasture that has been home to the Vashon Sheepdog Classic, and much of the forested corridor of Fisher Creek, a salmon-bearing stream.

News of the county’s tentative deal comes as Stewart’s real-estate company is selling off the estate in pieces after attempting unsuccessfully for years to reach a deal with a single buyer.

In the past year, the company has sold 15 tax parcels totaling more than 128 acres to ten separate buyers, according to county records. Altogether, the properties have sold for more than $9 million. Another 9-acre vacant parcel in the southeast corner of the estate that listed for $570,000, earlier this spring, is also now listed as a pending sale.

The sold properties are mostly on the estate’s western and southern edges, along Wax Orchard Road and Southwest 232nd Street. Most are undeveloped, but some have older houses and one is the site of the old Wax Orchards fruit cannery.

Recently, the corporate entity affiliated with Stewart listed the biggest chunk so far: 117 acres that includes Stewart’s 6,500-square foot residence, stocked lake, driving range, arboretum and numerous outbuildings.

The price: $11.2 million.

According to its listing by Reologics Sotheby’s International Realty, the property includes a horticultural collection that includes thousands of ornamental trees, hundreds of flowering shrubs, a rose garden, custom bridges, a “Claude Monet pond setting,” a stocked lake, a driving range, practice putting greens and a structure with office space, horse stalls and a showroom for up to 25 automobiles.

The main house has five bedrooms, a state-of-the-art wine cellar and an outdoor pool with a full view of Mount Rainier. Two guest houses, a sawmill, three large outbuildings and fully fenced horse pastures complete the property’s amenities.

The county’s tentative deal — which does not include the recently listed $11.2 million property — would “preserve farmland, increase recreational opportunities and protect ecological values,” according to a 2019 application made by the county’s Water and Land Resources Division for funding from the county’s Conservation Futures program.

Most of the land targeted for purchase by King County has never been listed for sale. However, in December of 2021, Stewart’s company informed the organizers of The Sheepdog Classic that the meadow would no longer be made available for the dog trials, due to “ongoing real estate opportunities.”

At that time, Rabourn told The Beachcomber that the county was continuing to pursue all the parcels it has targeted, but declined further comment.

A storied property

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.”

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.

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.

As the Great Recession hit and years passed, the rumors slowed and the asking price for the estate dropped dramatically – to $43 million in 2014, then $28 million in 2017, before the owners decided to market the property in smaller chunks.

The recent sales of Misty Isle parcels, rolling out in a series of transactions beginning in 2021, 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 have marked the highest price ever paid for land on Vashon.

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.