A text amendment that would lower the minimum residency age at the Whitney Glen condominium complex appears to have diminishing prospects of winning approval after several Planning and Zoning commissioners expressed concerns about the potential impact of the amendment last week.

Text Amendment 648 would create a new residency designation called "age-restricted senior housing," which would require that least one occupant or owner of a residential unit accessible only by stairs be 55 years old or over -- seven years younger than the current minimum standard. The P&Z began its review of the prospective zoning change last month.

The condo development -- off East Main Street, near the Compo Shopping Center on Post Road East -- has 62 units. All of its residents are 62 years old or over. Whitney Glen's age restriction constitutes a condition of the P&Z's approval of the complex in 1979.

Whitney Glen does not have elevators, and its upper-floor units are accessible only by stairs.

Installing elevators is not feasible, according to Westport lawyer Larry Weisman, who presented the proposed amendment to the P&Z on behalf of the Whitney Glen Condominium Association last month, and it was again reviewed last Thursday. By allowing younger residents at Whitney Glen, Text Amendment 648 would broaden the market for Whitney Glen residents looking to sell or rent out their homes, Weisman has argued.

"It addresses a persistent and pervasive problem that these people have, which is that they have difficulty selling and renting these units," Weisman said Thursday. "The reasons for the change are financial in part, and financial considerations are a legitimate concern in the context of a legislative act." The amendment comprises the latest proposal in a long-running bid by Whitney Glen condo owners to lower the complex's minimum residency age from 62 to 55. In 2010, they tried to achieve that goal by filing a site plan and special permit application, but that proposal was shelved after Town Attorney Ira Bloom determined that lowering the minimum age would require a text amendment to zoning regulations.

Text Amendment 648 has so far received a skeptical reception from most P&Z commissioners.

"I don't think that the need to go down to 55 is doing any good for the community at all," Al Gratrix said. "I think it would be a detrimental to lose that [housing] for people 62 and older." Nora Jinishian expressed a similar concern.

"Senior housing is an issue in this town," she said. "I would hate to deplete those seniors that were willing and able to take units like this." Whitney Glen's Board of Directors recently voted to lower the condo complex's minimum residency age, a move that was also backed in a vote by a "substantial majority" of Whitney Glen condo owners, according to Weisman.

"I'm here in favor of the age, but not because it's not going to benefit me," said Whitney Glen resident Francine Stein. "I just think it's the right thing to do." But the proposed zoning change appears to have divided the condo complex, as a number of Whitney Glen residents Thursday criticized Text Amendment 648.

"With 55-year-old people, they bring kids," said Ernie Ferrari. "I don't want a 13-year-old on a three-wheeler, a two-wheeler on a very narrow road that is in our property ... I have to go up and down 21 stairs to do my laundry. My cardiologist says, `Keep it up. Don't stop.'" Stanley Nayer, chairman of Westport's Commission for Senior Services, has also emerged as a vocal critic of the proposed amendment.

"What you would be doing by passing this regulation is effectively taking 62 units off the market to elderly seniors who are ready to sell their houses in their 60s and 70s," he said. "It shouldn't be go backward to age 55. Seniors are living longer today, and they can live active lives in this community and continue to give to this community."

Creating age-restricted senior housing would not change the town's underlying regulations for senior housing, which define a senior resident as 62 years old or older.

Text Amendment 648 would not affect any other current senior housing developments in Westport, according to Weisman.

While the Westport Housing Authority-owned Canal Park development includes walk-up units occupied by seniors, its restrictive covenant and funding sources preclude the Housing Authority from lowering the current Canal Park minimum residency age of 62. The amendment also would not likely apply to the planned senior residential campus at the town-owned Baron's South property.

The P&Z did not vote Thursday on Text Amendment 648. It will likely resume its review of the amendment when it returns in early September from its summer recess.

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