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Developer passed over for Baron's South senior project revises plan

Published 2:27 pm, Wednesday, November 28, 2012
  • A view of the town-owned Baron's South property. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    A view of the town-owned Baron's South property. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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A Westport development firm that unsuccessfully bid to develop a senior residential complex at the town-owned Baron's South property has revised its proposal, offering more subsidized and rented residential units, but fewer total residences than in its original plan.

In a Nov. 26 letter to the Board of Finance, Affirmative Hillspoint proposes to build 192 residential units at Baron's South, compared to 220 in its first plan.

It also proposes developing 60 subsidized rental-only units -- double the number of such residences envisioned in its original proposal.

Residents in those units would not have to pay entrance fees and would have subsidized monthly fees.

Entrance fees were waived for only 30 residents in the first Hillspoint plan.

About nine acres of the 23-acre Baron's South site would be developed, according to the revised Hillspoint plan, four fewer acres than needed for a 220-unit project.

Five of the nine acres of open space would be used for a public botanical garden. The Westport Center for Senior Activities already uses about five acres of the Baron's South property.

Unchanged from its first offer, Affirmative Hillspoint still proposes to build a 48-bed skilled-nursing facility at Baron's South.

Affirmative Hillspoint's new offer follows First Selectman Gordon Joseloff's recommendation in an open letter last week to Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner that a new request for proposals be issued for a prospective senior residential complex at Baron's South.

Joseloff is recommending a new RFP largely in response to finance board members' desire for a development plan that generates more revenue for the town than Jonathan Rose Companies' approximately 100-unit proposal, which was endorsed in September by the town's Baron's South Committee.

Jonathan Rose proposed to pay a $500,000 fee to lease Baron's South and contribute $250,000 annually to the town in payments-in-lieu-of-taxes.

Affirmative Hillspoint, meanwhile, offered in its original proposal to pay a $1.25 million annual ground lease and $1.018 million in property taxes each year to the town. Affirmative Hillspoint's originally proposed terms would generate up to $50 million more in net present value than Jonathan Rose's plan during a 75-year lease, according to an analysis by Board of Finance member Tom Lasersohn.

The new Affirmative Hillspoint proposal offers a $1.175 million ground lease and $900,000 in annual property taxes.

Those new terms would produce approximately $37 million in net present value for the town during a 75-year lease, compared to about $43 million for the first proposal, according to Affirmative Hillspoint.

While several Board of Finance members, including Lasersohn, have expressed interest in exploring Affirmative Hillspoint's original proposal, Joseloff and Baron's South Committee members reacted less enthusiastically. In particular, Joseloff has indicated his opposition to creating a continuing-care retirement community at Baron's South -- the type of senior residential development proposed by Affirmative Hillspoint.

In his letter to Kaner, Joseloff cited his concerns about a CCRC's impact on traffic and neighbors of Baron's South; the cost of "high-end" entrance fees to a CCRC, and the "significant burden" that would be placed on the town's Human Services Department, if it were to manage a scholarship fund set up to subsidize dozens of seniors' residency at the CCRC.

Affirmative Hillspoint principals have also had a tense relationship in recent months with members of the Baron's South Committee, the nine-member panel appointed last year by Joseloff, which wrote the first RFP.

In their letter to the Board of Finance, Affirmative Hillspoint executives expressed displeasure about the Baron's South Committee's alleged lack of communication with them during the committee's review earlier this year of the development proposals.

The letter also took issue with comments made by Baron's South Committee members in recent public meetings, which reportedly misstated the CCRC residential fees and land-use plans proposed in the first Hillspoint offer.

"The evidence is clear that the (Baron's South) Committee and First Selectman have a predetermined view of how senior services should be provided," the Affirmative Hillspoint letter added. "This predetermination blinded them and disabled a neutral process intended to yield a proposal that provides the most services to the largest number of Westport seniors of all income levels as well as the greatest financial benefit to the taxpayers of Westport."

Meanwhile, Joseloff's administration is seeking further input from other town officials before deciding whether to move ahead with a new RFP.

The Board of Finance will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Town Hall auditorium to discuss the Baron's South project.

Affirmative Hillspoint principals do not support a new RFP, arguing instead for the three development firms that responded to the first RFP to be allowed to propose revised terms.

"If they issue a new RFP and it said that no CCRC were allowed, I doubt that we would make another proposal," Affirmative Hillspoint President Marshall Breines said.

Caroline Vary, director of Jonathan Rose's Connecticut office, did not return a phone call and email requesting comment on the possibility of Jonathan Rose responding to a new RFP.

Bruce Redman Becker, president of Becker + Becker, the other development firm that responded to the first Baron's South RFP, said his company would consider submitting a new plan in response to a new RFP.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott