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RTM postpones vote on Baron's South senior project

Published 7:42 am, Wednesday, November 14, 2012
  • Selectman Shelly Kassen, at Tuesday's Representative Town Meeting session, talks about possible renegotiation of a proposal to build a senior residential campus on the Baron's South property.  Westport CT 11/13/12 Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Selectman Shelly Kassen, at Tuesday's Representative Town Meeting session, talks about possible renegotiation of a proposal to build a senior residential campus on the Baron's South property. Westport CT 11/13/12 Photo: Paul Schott

 

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The Representative Town Meeting will defer voting until December on a recommended course of action for First Selectman Gordon Joseloff's proposed senior residential complex at the town-owned Baron's South property, following public hearings on the plan held Monday and Tuesday by the legislative body.

Joseloff and his appointed Baron's South Committee have sought RTM input on the committee's recommendation that a residential complex for seniors, with about 100 units, be built on Baron's South by the Jonathan Rose Companies development firm. The plan's projected fiscal return was panned last month by Board of Finance members, but the proposal received a much more supportive reaction during the RTM's Monday night meeting.

In response to finance board members' criticism, Joseloff, the Baron's South Committee and Selectman Shelly Kassen the week expressed willingness to both issue a new "request for proposals" from developers for a senior residential center on the 23-acre site and to lower the required number of "affordable" or below-market-rate units at the prospective senior campus.

But Kassen indicated Tuesday night she would prefer re-negotiating with Jonathan Rose the terms of the firm's bid.

"I think renegotiating is a good construct," she said. " I think a good way to do it would be to have the Board of Finance at the table and possibly two members from this board [the RTM] be sitting with the Baron's South Committee, negotiating directly with the developer. The developer was well received and I think the model was well received."

RTM members' positions on development plans for Baron's South have been courted by Joseloff, Kassen and the Baron's South Committee in recent weeks. Kassen said Tuesday she would like the RTM to issue sense-of-the-meeting resolution to offer "direction" on the future of the planned senior residential campus. While a sense-of-the-meeting opinion would not be binding, it could act as an important measure of the extent of public backing for mixed-income rental housing for senior citizens at Baron's South.

RTM Long Range Planning Committee Chairman Jonathan Cunitz proposed Tuesday a sense-of-the-meeting resolution that would have apparently endorsed both the Baron's South Committee recommendation of the Jonathan Rose plan and negotiations with the developer to obtain "more favorable" terms for the town. He withdrew the motion, however, after RTM members agreed to postpone a sense-of-the-meeting vote until December.

Joseloff also backed postponing the RTM's sense-of-the-meeting decision.

"I hope the momentum will continue, but I think you ought to consider this at your next meeting," he said Tuesday. "The last thing that I think you need or we need is for anyone to say that this was rushed through without anybody knowing about it."

After the RTM's extensive discussion of the proposal Monday, there was no lengthy debate at Tuesday's session.

Instead, a contentious exchange flared up between Board of Finance member Tom Lasersohn and Baron's South Committee Co-Chairman Steve Daniels. Lasersohn argued that a new RFP should be issued. He also pointed out to the Baron's South development proposal submitted by the Westport-based Affirmative Hillspoint group, which would generate $50 million more in net present value to the town compared to the Jonathan Rose plan during a 75-year span, according to his calculations.

"Fifty million dollars of present value could help us afford more teachers to keep class sizes reasonable, allow us to maintain our standards of public safety, the need for which is so apparent after Sandy," Lasersohn said. "It could help us maintain our roads and infrastructure and the quality of town services."

Daniels countered that Affirmative Hillspoint's plan to build a "continuing-care retirement community," composed of 220 residential units and a 48-bed skilled-nursing facility, would be prohibitively expensive for many Westport seniors.

"The 40 units that they call affordable -- there is a $400,000 buy-in," he said. "The fees, in addition to the 400 to 800 [thousand dollar buy-in], are $6,000 a month. That's not affordable in any way and it will not serve us."

In contrast to the scores of residents who attended the Monday RTM hearing, attendance at Tuesday's meeting was low and public comment was brief.

Ginny McGovern, president of the Westport Parent-Teacher Association Council, alluded to the potential impact of a Baron's South residential campus on enrollment in the town's public school system.

"If you have 50 [senior] residents selling their homes, or 100, and those [new] families come in all at once ... it can be a lot of children," added McGovern, the wife of Board of Education Vice Chairman Michael McGovern. "They don't come in on the normal cycle of real estate."

The RTM is scheduled to resume its review of Joseloff's Baron's South proposal at its next meeting, set for 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, in the Town Hall auditorium.

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