The town's new "request for proposals" for a senior residential complex at the town-owned Baron's South property is generating interest from developers, with about 25 people attending an informational session Tuesday at Town Hall. The turnout included representatives from the three development firms that bid on the project last year.
The question-and-answer forum allowed attendees to learn more about the parameters of the RFP and town officials to clarify their expectations for the new round of bids.
"If you are successful, we are going to have a project that's going to be here to stay," said Steve Daniels, co-chairman of the Baron's South Committee, which wrote the RFP. "What we ultimately want is something that's going to serve the town and be there for the next 25, 45, 50 years."
Attendees' questions ranged from queries about the RFP's submission and review processes to broader questions about potential development scenarios and the viability of senior residential development at the property.
Several development firms sent a group of representatives to the forum. Turnout at the meeting was comparable to attendance for the town's informational session held last year for the first Baron's South RFP, according to Richard Kotchko, the town's purchasing officer.
The new RFP was released by the town last month -- almost exactly a year after the first RFP's release -- after First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and the Baron's South Committee decided against moving ahead with the committee's preferred development proposal received during the first bidding round for the project. A reboot of the bidding process was largely motivated by Board of Finance members' dissatisfaction with the proposed financial terms of the Jonathan Rose Companies' plan with about 100 units, which was endorsed last September by the town's Baron's South Committee.
"The reality is that none of this will go forward unless we have broad public support," said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. "That's why we have this second round because the first round obviously did not garner enough support."
Despite finance board members' criticism of their first development proposal, Jonathan Rose executives have said that they plan to bid again on the project.
Becker + Becker, a Fairfield-based company that bid on the project last year, also plans to submit a new proposal.
"It's good to know more about what people want," Becker + Becker managing director Kirsten Springer told the Westport News after Tuesday's meeting. "We've learned a lot during the last year and hopefully we'll have a responsive proposal."
Marshall Breines, president of the Westport-based Affirmative Hillspoint, which also responded to the first RFP, said in an email Tuesday that his firm is "still considering what to do" in response to the new RFP.
The new document does not appear to allow for the consideration of a "continuing-care retirement community" concept, which Hillspoint presented in response to the first RFP.
The new RFP's overarching goal -- the development of an independent living center with mixed-income rental housing for senior citizens on the approximately 23-acre Baron's South property -- is identical to the main objective of its predecessor. Like the first RFP, the new document also allows developers to present plans for a health-care facility to complement the residential component of the project.
"We think it's something that will be needed at some point," Daniels said of a health-care facility. "It's easier to justify when it's Mary Smith, Bob Brown and John Green, than when you're just proposing it conceptually."
But the new RFP also establishes new conditions for developers' proposals. It allows 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, compared to a 60 percent affordability threshold set in the first RFP.
"Preference" will be given to proposals for no more than 150 residential units at Baron's South, according to the new RFP. The town, nonetheless, will accept development plans for as many as 200 units. The RFP also gives "preference" to bids that do not plan to develop more than eight acres of the Baron's South property.
Daniels also advised bidders not to submit proposals that did not primarily intend to serve current Westport residents, unless they wanted to spark a "howling debate."
Marty Hauhuth, the other co-chairman of the Baron's South Committee, cited the Simon Fireman Community in Randolph, Mass., as a model for a successful senior residential complex at Baron's South.
"You walked in the door and knew the people were happy there," she said of the Simon Fireman development. "It was a building that incorporated a variety of very attractive and welcoming areas."
Responses to the new RFP are due by March 1. Hauhuth, Daniels and Joseloff did not disclose at the meeting a timetable for the Baron's South Committee's review of the new proposals. The committee spent about six months scrutinizing the first round of development plans.
"It took us a long time the first time," Hauhuth added. "We're hoping to shorten that this time."
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