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Baron's South housing plan moves forward despite affordability questions

Updated 12:45 pm, Tuesday, June 10, 2014

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  • The Board of Selectmen (from left: Selectman Avi Kaner, First Selectman Jim Marpe and Selectman Helen Garten) unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding to develop senior housing on the Baronís South property at a special meeting held Monday night. Photo: Anne M. Amato / westport news
    The Board of Selectmen (from left: Selectman Avi Kaner, First Selectman Jim Marpe and Selectman Helen Garten) unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding to develop senior housing on the Baronís South property at a special meeting held Monday night. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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The long-delayed memorandum of understanding between the town and Baron's South Senior Housing LLC for a $60 million senior housing complex won approval Monday from the Board of Selectmen.

But the selectmen's unanimous vote came only after nearly two hours of discussion as concerns were raised over the number of units designated "affordable" at the planned 135-unit residential complex envisioned for the town-owned land.

"This is town land and I think the town can do better than 20 percent affordable housing," said resident Ellie Lowenstein.

That 20 percent affordable set-aside has been reduced from an initial text amendment that proposed 60 percent of the units conform with affordable criteria, said Town Attorney Ira Bloom.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will consider a new text amendment for the project, which reflects that change, at its June 19 meeting, he said. P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens, in the audience Monday night, stood at one point and said his commission wants the public at that meeting and plans to "send out a press release" urging people to attend to voice their views on the project changes.

Selectman Helen Garten, prior to voting on the memorandum, said she was concerned about the limited amount of affordable housing, but added that with certain other offerings, like the amenities that include a pool, the project would benefit everyone who uses the Westport Center for Senior Activities, which is adjacent to the proposed housing complex.

Selectman Avi Kaner, who led the Baron's South negotiations effort on behalf of the town said that 40 percent of the 135 housing units would be priced "below market rate" and besides the 20 percent affordable units, 20 percent would be moderate-income units.

Asked to define the two, Kaner said the 27 affordable units would be for those whose income is up to $43,450 for a single person and $49,650 for two persons. Monthly rent for those units would be about $1,000, he said. Those with income of up to $120,000 for two people or $105,000 for a single person could qualify for one of the 27 moderate-income unit, which would rent for "a little over $2,000 a month," he said. There would be caps on rents, he added.

One resident asked if Westporters would have a priority in getting a unit. "According to fair housing laws, we can't refuse someone to apply, but we can give priority to residents," said Barbara Butler, the town's director of human services.

Kaner also said the housing complex, built on approximately eight acres of the town-owned land, would be a "financial win for all Westport taxpayers" because it would "quickly approach $1 million a year in taxes" making the housing complex the town's third-largest taxpayer. The town will retain ownership of the land underneath, said Bloom. And since the housing adjoins the senior center, the center "won't have to be expanded," Kaner said.

He said the land was purchased by the town 14 years ago for $7 million, with no specific use and no real plan in mind.

Baron's South Committee Co-chairmen Martha Hauhuth and Steve Daniels also attended the meeting as well as two representatives from Jonathan Rose Companies, one of the developers. The other is Freshwater Associates.

Daniels said the town is building "what the residents expect" -- something "leading edge."

The memorandum of understanding, reached between the town and the developers provides the business terms with definitive lease and development agreements to follow, Kaner said.

Bloom said the memorandum is a "non-binding document" and a "framework for subsequent agreements," including a long-term, 98-year lease.

There will be "two final, more comprehensive documents," including a development agreement, Bloom said. The development agreement, Kaner said, would address issues such as the "perimeter of inconvenience" to neighbors of the project.

Beth Bass of Thomas Road -- a nearby resident of the proposed project -- said there is already a problem with traffic with many drivers using her street as a "cut-through road." She also said she's concerned about construction vehicles when building begins and blasting that potentially might be done.

Kaner said some of those issues have already been raised by several of Bass' neighbors and some of the concerns -- like speeding on the road -- are being investigated and will be addressed "regardless of whether there is a Baron's South."

If the project wins final approval, it will be built on a section of the Baron's South property between Post Road East, Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue, just south of the Westport Center for Senior Activities on Imperial Avenue.

Developers have estimated the project could be completed within 44 months, or sooner, once all approvals are granted.

The development will be linked to senior center, with access to a shared annex building that would house a cafe, pool, gymnasium and common area.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will meet at 7 p.m. June 19 in Town Hall, with the Baron's South amendment an agenda item.