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P&Z holds off vote on Baron's South revisions despite calls for approval

Published 7:27 am, Friday, July 18, 2014

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  • Resident Martha Aasen was one of those who voiced support for the approval of a text amendment concerning the Baron's South project during a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night. Photo: Anne M. Amato / westport news
    Resident Martha Aasen was one of those who voiced support for the approval of a text amendment concerning the Baron's South project during a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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The Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday night left open its hearing on a proposed text amendment to zoning regulations that would, among other things, cut the number of required affordable units at the proposed Baron's South senior housing complex.

The commission plans to take up the matter again Sept. 4.

The revised amendment would reduce the number of "affordable" units from 60 to 20 percent at the 135-unit complex planned on the town-owned property. Twenty percent of the units would also be rented at moderate-income rates, which officials say would still be considered below market rate in Westport.

Supporters of the Baron's South housing plan have argued in recent weeks that, without revisions to the original amendment, the project will die.

Several residents, including Stanley Nayor of Clinton Avenue, who said he will be 80 in September, spoke Thursday on the issue. "I want to continue living in Westport and a one-family home is harder for me to handle," he said, adding a residential community like Baron's South would allow him to live here the rest of his life.

"I ran the numbers and they work for me," he said. "This should not be only about money, but about social responsibility," he said. "It would be a tragic mistake to let it die."

Martha Aasen, a 51-year town resident, said the amenities being planned for the project -- a pool, fitness center and beauty salon -- are pluses that complement the adjacent senior center and would "alleviate the need to enlarge it."

Valerie Jacobs, a member of Save Westport Now, said she opposes the revised amendment because of the "reduction" in affordable units. "This is simply a way to satisfy the financial concerns of the developer," she said.

P&Z Chairmen Chip Stephens, at the start of the meeting, told those who planned to speak that they each would be allotted only three minutes.

Jacobs initially read a statement from Sidney Kramer, founder of Save Westport Now, who could not attend. Stephens initially wanted to limit Jacobs' own time, but agreed to three minutes. When she went over, Stephens reminded her that time was up. "I'm being cut off," Jacobs said. "You've had eight" minutes, Stephens countered, prompting Jacobs to respond that was "grounds for appeal." Zoning commission member Cathy Walsh intervened and Jacobs agreed to leave the podium and file her complete statement with the commission.

Several town officials also spoke, including former Selectman Shelly Kassen, who was involved in drafting the initial text amendment. "It was a statement -- 60 percent," she said, of the allocation of affordable units. However, she said she now supports the change, the reduction to 20 percent affordable for several reasons, including that "60 percent affordable would create a senior community" where those living there would be "assumed to be in need."

"I was the one who urged 60 percent, but now I'm saying I was wrong," she said

The P&Z has been asked by First Selectman Jim Marpe to revise the text amendment, and he again advocated the change Thursday night. He said he wants "to help seniors stay where they will be safe and comfortable," adding the town's Human Services Department, in the past four years, has heard from 300 seniors who might be interested in moving into Baron's South.