Baron's South Committee members have set an early April target date for endorsing a new proposal to develop a senior residential complex at the town-owned Baron's South property, as they try to rally community support for the project by recruiting other town officials to help review bids.
Appointed in 2011 by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, the Baron's South Committee is charged with evaluating developers' responses to the town's latest request for proposals for a senior living center at Baron's South. Released in December, the new RFP retains the principal goal of the first RFP: the creation of an independent living center that will provide mixed-income rental housing for senior citizens on the approximately 23-acre Baron's South property near the town center. Like the first RFP, the new document also allows developers to submit plans for a health-care facility to accompany a residential center.
New development plans for Baron's South are due to the town by March 1. Baron's South Committee members plan to recommend a new development proposal to Joseloff by April 9, according to Marty Hauhuth, a committee co-chairwoman. In comparison, the committee spent about five months reviewing bids received by the town, after the first RFP was sent out in December 2011.
"What we really want to look at most importantly is the return to the town, the number of units and the percentage of those units which are affordable," Hauhuth said Friday during a meeting of the committee.
In a significant change from the first RFP, the new RFP allows development plans that would rent as few as 20 percent of the total number of homes at Baron's South as below-market-rate "affordable units," compared to a 60 percent affordability threshold set by the first RFP.
Joseloff and Baron's South Committee members chose to issue a new RFP after finance board members criticized the expected financial return of a 99-unit proposal by the Jonathan Rose Companies development firm. The Baron's South Committee endorsed last September the Jonathan Rose plan, which was one of three bids submitted in response to the first RFP.
Ahead of their review of new bids, Baron's South Committee members have said that they want to pursue a more open and inclusive evaluation process than their study of the first round of bids. The committee carried out most of its review sessions of the first-round development proposals in closed-door meetings. That strategy that was lambasted for an alleged lack of transparency by a number of residents, including Representative Town Meeting member John McCarthy, whose district includes the Baron's South property.
Related to Baron's South Committee members' goal of expanded community involvement in the Baron's South project, RTM Planning and Zoning Committee Chairman Matthew Mandell and RTM Long Range Planning Committee Chairman Jonathan Cunitz have joined the committee as consulting, non-voting members to help the core nine-person panel review the new bids.
"I think why Jonathan and I are here is there was an outcry from the community that there wasn't enough transparency," Mandell said during Friday's meeting. "I personally didn't have a problem with how and what you were doing -- I had confidence in what was occurring -- but I could see their point."
Mandell and Cunitz are two of the RTM's most influential members on land-use issues and they have both been actively involved in the public review of the proposed senior residential campus at Baron's South.
"The RTM is probably the broadest representation of the community," Cunitz said. "We felt the public wanted to have more information about what's going on."
Two Board of Finance members are also set to join the Baron's South Committee in advisory, non-voting roles.
Jim Marpe, a Republican candidate for first selectman in this year's town election, said he also backed the town issuing a new RFP.
"I'm certainly supportive of the process of examining the issue," Marpe told the Westport News after Friday's meeting. "There are seniors who cannot afford to continue to live in the houses they have here, but want to remain in Westport and continue to contribute to Westport. The question is can we find a way that is acceptable to community to help make that happen."
Marpe added that would support a senior residential complex at Baron's South, if it were the "right project with the right return," to the town.
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