A month and a half after receiving the latest round of bids to develop a senior residential complex at the town-owned Baron's South property, the Baron's South Committee has reduced its short list to three proposals. But the living costs outlined in those plans prompted several people to voice concerns during a committee meeting Tuesday night at the Westport Center for Senior Activities.
The meeting was the first public review of the proposals since the committee sent bidders a letter last month to clarify the parameters of the latest request for proposals. The document invited the bidders to revise their plans to meet new criteria, which called for:
- A maximum of 150 residential units at the senior campus.
- Only one- and two-bedroom units to be built; all to have full kitchens.
- A minimum of 30 percent of the residential units to be rented at below-market rates.
- A limit to "high-end" amenities such as swimming pools.
- No access to the site from Post Road East.
- Senior-campus development would not cover more than 8 acres.
"We're trying to achieve a proposal where we're keeping that significant affordability factor, but we're also bringing in income that can mean that folks who see this as an asset feel good about it going forward," said the Rev. Edward Horne, senior pastor at the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston and a committee member. "It's a balancing act and a compromise."
Three of the five firms that responded to the RFP submitted revised proposals. Another candidate, Senior Care Development, has withdrawn its bid, while the committee had already eliminated from contention a proposal from the Westport-based Affirmative Hillspoint because it did not meet the RFP's requirements.
- Cleveland-based TransCon Builders' updated proposal includes the following features: 150 independent living units, comprising 44 one-bedroom apartments and 96 two-bedroom apartments; 45 units -- 30 percent of the total -- would be rented at affordable rates; market-rate, one-bedroom apartments would rent for $3,245 or $3,545 monthly, depending on their size; market-rate two-bedroom apartments would rent $4,135 monthly; "affordable" below-market-rate one bedroom apartments would rent for $1,160 or $1,190 per month, depending on size; affordable two-bedroom apartments would rent for $1,265 per month.
- Atria Senior Living of Louisville, Ky., has proposed: 150 independent-living units' 117 one-bedroom apartments and 33 two-bedroom units; 30 percent of the units would be affordable; market-rate one-bedroom apartments would rent for $5,244 monthly; market-rate two-bedroom apartments would rent for $8,366 monthly; affordable one-bedroom apartments would rent at $971 or $1,295, depending on residents' income; affordable two-bedroom apartments would rent at $1,036 or $1,381, depending on residents' income; mandatory $1,800 monthly expense for two meals per day and weekly housecleaning, which would be paid in addition to rent.
"The rents, while coming down from the original proposal, are still pretty high in my estimation," Horne said of Atria's proposal.
- Jonathan Rose, which has offices in Stamford and New Haven, submitted a bid last year that was endorsed by the committee, but abandoned after criticism from the Board of Finance. In response to the second RFP, it has presented several scenarios ranging from 120 to 150 units. It "offered a very complicated proposal with a lot of flexibility," Horne said.
Features in those scenarios include: 28 "memory-care units" designed for residents who may have Alzheimer's disease, dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment; 30 percent of the units would be affordable; all affordable units would be one-bedroom apartments rented at $1,084 per month; market rate, one-bedroom apartments would be rented with fewer amenities at $2,200 per month and $4,750 per month with full-scale amenities; two-bedroom apartments would rent for $2,800 monthly with fewer amenities and $6,350 with a wider range; an opt-in $1,500 monthly expenditure for one meal a day and housekeeping.
More than two dozen residents attended the meeting, and several expressed worries about the cost of living at Baron's South and a potential lack of affordable units.
"Nothing there sounded affordable to me, and I'm a retired school teacher," said Geraldine Marshall, a 40-year town resident.
Another woman, who declined to give her name, voiced similar concerns.
"I think there are a lot of people in this town who are just hanging on by their fingernails to stay in this town, whether they're bunking with their children or in substandard living conditions," she said. "You're only talking about 45 units out of 150 ... I just don't think there are enough affordable units."
Horne responded that committee members are pursuing development plans with the most units they believe would be approved by town boards.
"We're pretty sure Planning and Zoning wouldn't approve maximum development of the entire property and maxing out the number of units," he said. "Keeping it to 100 to 150 units is probably as far as we can go."
Representative Town Meeting Don Bergmann, District 1, recommended that the committee prioritize prospective residents with a demonstrable need for subsidization to live in town.
"Fundamentally, I've always viewed this as a project that is to satisfy people who can't otherwise completely get to live in Westport under senior circumstances, rental or condominium," he said. "It doesn't mean I want only poor people, or people who are under the affordable category. It means it should not be catering to people who could otherwise pay."
Committee members did not take any votes Tuesday. They are scheduled to meet with Jonathan Rose, Atria and TransCon representatives on April 26. Committee members have not yet announced when they plan to recommend a proposal to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.
Horne told the Westport News after the meeting that he hopes for the senior-living project to secure all approvals needed from town boards by the end of the year.
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