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Panel reviews five new bids for Baron's South senior complex

Updated 3:40 pm, Monday, March 4, 2013
  • A view of the town-owned Baron's South property. The town has received five new bids to develop a senior residential complex at the 23-acre site. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    A view of the town-owned Baron's South property. The town has received five new bids to develop a senior residential complex at the 23-acre site. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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Five firms have bid in response to the town's latest "request for proposals" to develop a senior residential complex at the town-owned Baron's South property.

The five plans were submitted by the RFP deadline of 4 p.m. Friday. The new RFP, released Dec. 26, sought proposals to plan, design, construct, manage and operate a senior living center at the 23-acre Baron's South property near the town center.

"It's a good response -- we've got three new players and two returning players," Richard Kotchko, the town's purchasing officer, said Friday.

The two returning "players" are Jonathan Rose Companies and Affirmative Hillspoint, which were two of the three firms that responded to the first Baron's South RFP, issued in December 2011.

Jonathan Rose's original proposal for a 99-unit residential center at Baron's South was endorsed last September by the Baron's South Committee, a panel appointed by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, which wrote both Baron's South RFPs. But the Jonathan Rose plan foundered in October, when Board of Finance members declined to support it because they felt it did not provide a sufficient financial return to the town. The finance board's panning of the first Jonathan Rose bid was instrumental in persuading Joseloff and the Baron's South Committee to issue the new RFP for the senior-residential campus.

Affirmative Hillspoint's first bid was not recommended by the Baron's South Committee because the Westport-based firm's proposal to develop a continuing-care retirement community at Baron's South exceeded the parameters of the first RFP, committee members argued last year.

The three first-time bidders for the Baron's South project are: Senior Care Development, from Harrison, N.Y.; the Louisville, Ky.-based Atria Senior Living, and the Cleveland-based TransCon Builders.

The new RFP retained the overarching objective of the first RFP: the development of an independent living center that would provide mixed-income rental housing for senior citizens on the Baron's South property. Like its predecessor, the new RFP also allowed developers to present plans for a health-care facility to complement the residential complex at Baron's South.

But the new RFP also established several new parameters for developers' proposals. Comprising perhaps the most substantive change, the new RFP permitted development plans that allocate below-market-rate "affordable" units to as few as 20 percent of the total number of homes at Baron's South planned by a developer. The first RFP accepted only proposals that allocated below-market rates to at least 60 percent of the Baron's South units.

Baron's South Committee members have identified the return on investment, the ratio of affordable to market-rate units and the number of residences proposed by each developer as their main criteria in evaluating the new proposals.

"Our priorities have somewhat shifted because we were aiming for 60 percent affordable and that's no longer the case, because of the other voices that we heard," the Rev. Edward Horne, senior pastor at the United Methodist Church in Westport and Weston and a Baron's South Committee member, said Monday. "We've diminished that number in order to try to make a better financial return. That's the juggling act. Affordable housing is still the key part."

Baron's South Committee members will spend the next five weeks reviewing the five proposals. They have set an April 9 deadline to recommend one of the five new bids to Joseloff. In comparison, their review of the first round of Baron's South bids lasted about five months.

"We have a very short time frame," Baron's South Committee Co-Chairman Steve Daniels said Monday. "We know we're pushing the pedal to the metal. This is what we're going to do."

The nine-person Baron's South Committee, along with Representative Town Meeting members Matthew Mandell, District 1, and Jonathan Cunitz, District 4, and Board of Finance members John Pincavage and Brian Stern, will review the new bids. Those RTM and finance board members will serve in advisory, non-voting roles as the proposals are evaluated.

"What I hope from the input of the RTM people and finance people is basically to develop something that's going to get through and that people are going to be satisfied with from a lot of different perspectives," Pincavage said Monday.

The RTM's Long Range Planning Committee, meanwhile, has scheduled a public meeting for Thursday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium, a forum that will be solely dedicated to discussion of the Baron's South project.

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