Decision imminent on Daybreak senior housing proposal

WESTPORT — After five months of public debate, the Planning and Zoning Commission will soon decide whether to approve or deny a proposed senior housing development at 500 Main St.

Before making a final decision, the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) held a last public hearing on the proposal for four two-family dwellings and three one-family houses restricted to persons 55 years or older on Feb. 8.

“Who do you want to support? Because there’s really two groups of people here. There are the neighbors who live here and have real legitimate concerns about traffic, safety, quality of life, and home values. All of that, versus an outside developer whose motive is for self-interest and economic gain,” Jim Kopack, 11 Daybreak Lane, said at the hearing

The proposed project has engendered such fierce backlash from the surrounding neighbors that, in recent months, many of the neighbors coalesced to create the “Coleytown Conservation Coalition,” to help facilitate opposition to the proposal.

Coalition leaders Bonnie Dubson and Anca Micu, who both live on Daybreak Lane, presented Powerpoints at the hearing, which said the proposed project is overly dense and not compatible with the neighborhood, over develops a contaminated site posing health risks, and does not help those who are truly seniors, that is, per town guidelines, persons over 62 years or older and not 55 years and older as the project defines senior.

The project also allows kids to live in the units, which would cost the town an overall deficit of $125,000 if the kids attend Westport public schools, Dubson said because, per her estimates, the tax revenue on the units would not outweigh the cost of educating a child in the Westport public schools.

“This development should give priority to Westporters, because we’re talking about having Westporters age in place, not bringing in 55 plus (year olds) from other communities,” Dubson said, arguing the project should restrict ownership to current Westporters.

For his part, 500 Main St. owner and the project’s developer, Peter Greenberg, said he collaborated with zoning to design a senior housing development based on what the commission said the town needs.

“We’ve heard from numerous people over the last years in committee discussions this is a development the town needs. Diversity in housing stock has been talked about for a long time and unfortunately, as a builder there’s no incentive to build small houses. The incremental cost to add square foot(age) is so low that big houses are what builders build. This is a great opportunity for the town.” Greenberg, a resident of Wilton and owner of Norwalk based Able Construction, said.

In contrast to the neighbors' data, Greenberg projected the development will provide a revenue increase to the town because it’s unlikely many kids will live in the units given the age restriction.

Greenberg also addressed the neighbor’s concerns about the environmental impact of building on the site due to its historic use as a nursery. Sheri Hardman, a licensed environmental professional, tested the soil in November and found no evidence of pesticide or herbicide impact on the property, but did find an impact of petroleum hydrocarbons, which she said are likely present in the soil due to concrete on the property.

The petroleum will be tested repeatedly and remediated throughout the duration of the development’s construction, Hardman said.

In terms of the impact to traffic, traffic engineer Kermit Hua said the project is projected to add 0.0025 trips to the intersection daily. The project’s attorney, Fairfield-based William Fitzpatrick, also opined on the topic of traffic, saying legally, traffic congestion can’t be a reason for denying the project.

Mary Gai, 7 Daybreak Lane, stood alone among her neighbors in support of the development.

“I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone with my neighbors opposing this,” Gai said, adding she’s worried if the zoning denies the project the decision may have the unintended consequence of allowing another developer to build a large affordable housing complex on the property, something the P&Z may not be able to stop.

After the meeting, Kim Harizam, a town resident, real estate agent, and Greenberg’s cousin said many of her clients are urgently looking for smaller homes in Westport, like the ones Greenberg proposes, in which to downsize.

Despite the contentious meeting, Harizman appeared confident the project will soon be approved. “I do think it will be built, and in the rearview mirror it will be, ‘what was all the hoopla about?’ I think this will be a good thing for the town and people will like it,” Harizman said.

Zoning is next expected to discuss the proposal on Feb. 15, after press time.; @SophieCVaughan1