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Optimism reigns at White Horse

KINGSTON — Residents of Kingston’s White Horse golf development are hoping new owners will bring new life to the unfinished community.

Port Madison Enterprises, the business arm of the Suquamish Tribe, bought the golf course and 159 vacant lots from Columbia Bank last week for an undisclosed price.

The golf course will bolster the company’s entertainment offerings, which include the Clearwater Casino and Resort in Suquamish. It’s not clear yet what the company’s plans for the development are, but White Horse property owners are happy to see any action after years of uncertainty.

“We’re ecstatic,” homeowner Pat Ziarnik said. “After two years, we may finally see some progress.”

Homeowners like Ziarnik, who bought in the development three years ago, had seen White Horse spiral from a dream development to financial pariah.

Bainbridge developer Bob Screen began planning White Horse in the 1990s. Several groups, including the Suquamish Tribe, opposed the development over density concerns.

Screen broke ground on the housing development in 2003 on land off South Kingston Road. About 40 house sites were sold and developed. The golf course opened in 2007 and garnered positive reviews from national golf publications.

“The whole project was absolutely fantastic,” Ziarnik said.

The optimism was short lived. Lots failed to sell as the housing market declined. Homeowners watched their property values fall, while planned amenities like a community clubhouse never materialized.

White Horse Golf Club and the attached development company went into foreclosure in the spring of 2009, owing more than $5 million to American Marine Bank and other lenders. Screen filed for bankruptcy later that year and American Marine Bank seized the property in December. American Marine had financial troubles of its own and was taken over by the FDIC Jan. 29. Columbia Bank took over American Marine’s assets and quickly sold White Horse.

Port Madison Enterprises announced the purchase Feb. 25. Enterprises Chief Executive Officer Russell Steele said the development fits well within the tribe’s broader business goals.

“A golf course has always been included in our long-term business model. It allows PME to further diversify the kinds of businesses we operate and ensures steady growth,” Steele said in a statement.

The company will begin marketing “resort golf packages” soon, according to a company news release. The golf club is a 15-minute drive from the tribe’s Clearwater Casino. Touchstone Golf, a management company brought on by American Marine, will continue to run the course.

The company has not made public plans for the vacant land. Enterprises spokeswoman April Leigh said the company was holding its first internal planning meeting on White Horse this week.

While the tribe was taking control of the golf course, homeowners were taking control of their neighborhood. They are now running their own homeowners association, previously been overseen by Screen.

The association hasn’t had a conversation with the tribe since the purchase, but the mood is already optimistic, said newly appointed association president Louis Nick.

“I think the neighbor’ I’ve spoken with are glad that there’s a future to the development and the golf course,” Nick said.

Some homeowners found a silver lining in the slow development of White Horse.

“It’s been nice and quiet,” said Jeff Rouser, whose property abuts a vacant lot. Still, he said the tribe’s purchase was encouraging.

“I think overall it will be a good thing,” Rouser said. “Time will tell.”

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