The town on Wednesday released a new "request for proposals" for developing a senior residential complex at the town-owned Baron's South property, in response to Board of Finance members' criticism of a development plan previously endorsed by the town's Baron's South Committee.
The main goals of the new RFP are similar to objectives of the first RFP, namely 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 request also allows developers to present plans for a health-care facility to complement the residential component of the project.
But the new RFP also sets a number of new parameters for developers' proposals. The most substantive change would allow development plans that allocate below-market-rate units to as few as 20 percent of the total number of homes at Baron's South planned by a developer.
That new provision increases the possibility of a reversal of a text amendment to the town's zoning regulations approved last year by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which stipulates that at least 60 percent of any residential units at Baron's South be rented at below-market "affordable" rates. First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, the leading proponent of senior residential development at Baron's South, advocated strongly for the 2011 text amendment.
Developers submitting new bids with a below-market-rate unit ratio of less than 60 percent would need to seek approval for a new text amendment from the P&Z.
Joseloff and Baron's South Committee members decided to issue a new RFP after finance board members panned the projected financial return of a 99-unit proposal by the Jonathan Rose Companies development firm. The Jonathan Rose plan was endorsed by the Baron's South Committee in September from among three development options submitted to in response to the project's first RFP, which was released by the town in December 2011.
"We're trying to be accommodating and that's why it's written in this way," Joseloff said of the new RFP during a Dec. 21 meeting of the Baron's South Committee.
The new RFP bears a strong Board of Finance imprint. It includes, for instance, a "Viewpoints" PowerPoint presentation produced by the finance board, which outlines that panel's objectives for the use of the Baron's South property.
Reflecting the finance input, the new RFP says "preference" will be given to proposals that call for no more than 150 residential units at Baron's South. The town, however, will accept development plans that envision as many 200 units. The RFP also gives "preference" to bids that do not ask to develop more than eight acres of the Baron's South property.
In another notable change, the new RFP precludes developers from submitting plans for a "continuing-care retirement community," a type of senior-living center that offers a comprehensive range of residential and health-care services to residents. That condition could present a setback to the Westport-based development firm Affirmative Hillspoint, which submitted a CCRC plan in response to the first RFP.
Before recommending a new proposal to Joseloff, the Baron's South Committee will communicate "interactively" with town boards and commissions, including the Representative Town Meeting, the Board of Finance, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Architectural Review Board, the new RFP adds.
"It came through a process," Baron's South Committee Co-Chairwoman Marty Hauhuth said of the new RFP during a Dec. 21 interview with the Westport News. "We listened to a lot of people and, in our judgment, and in Gordon [Joseloff]'s judgment, this isn't going someplace without some adjustments."
The new RFP sets a deadline of March 1 for developers' proposals. Before the submission date, the new RFP encourages "interested parties" to attend an information session, which will be held Jan. 15 at Town Hall.
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