Joseloff agrees to new appraisal of senior living center site
Following lengthy review by the Board of Finance Wednesday night of First Selectman Gordon Joseloff's proposal for a senior living and health-care center on the town-owned Baron's South property, he decided to have an appraisal of the site's value conducted to satisfy questions raised by the board.
"They want to know what the value of the property is," he told the Westport News following the meeting. "They have a town assessor who put a value on the property, but they want a second opinion."
The first selectman's appraisal plan represents the latest in a long list of steps involved in moving ahead with his proposal to build a senior residential complex and health-care complex on the 23-acre Baron's South property. Joseloff's plan also calls for the town to lease Baron's South for operation of the seniors campus, most likely to a nonprofit organization.
The review of Joseloff's proposal came at the request of several finance board members who wanted more details on the financial implications of the project.
"It's a taxpayer property, and the benefits must go to the Westport taxpayer," said board member Avi Kaner.
The Board of Finance's review coincides with a text amendment to town zoning regulations proposed by Joseloff to the Planning and Zoning Commission that would pave the way for construction of the senior living center. The P&Z has not yet voted on the amendment.
During the first P&Z public hearing on the amendment, which took place Feb. 17, several commissioners and members of the public asked that the current value of the Baron's South property be determined before any zoning changes are approved.
Following Board of Finance approval in 1998, the town acquired the Baron's South site for $7 million. The property's land has a current appraised value of approximately $19 million, according to the online assessor's database, Vision Appraisal.
In 2004, the town opened the Westport Center for Senior Activities on the Baron's South site, but most of the land remains undeveloped.
The town's charter stipulates that the finance board should make recommendations for the leasing terms of the senior living center, but the project does not require board approval to move forward.
Board Chairwoman Helen Garten, nevertheless, urged Joseloff and Selectman Shelly Kassen to "keep every option open" regarding the lease of Baron's South, as well as the possible sale of some of its lots.
Kassen expressed support for the finance board to have an ongoing review of the senior living center's financial viability. She rejected, however, Kaner's proposal of considering the Imperial Avenue commuter parking lot as an alternative site for the project.
"Our plan is not to go serve this need by seeking other properties," she said. "We already own a piece of property that has a senior center on it."
After facing extended public debate at the Feb. 17 public hearing, audience discussion of the senior living center proposal was briefer Wednesday night, with several speakers advocating that Baron's South be maintained as open space.
Joseloff will return to the finance board for evaluation of the Baron's South appraisal, but a timetable for subsequent meetings on that initiative has not yet been set.
Review of Joseloff's senior living center plan will move back to the P&Z on Thursday, March 10, when that body holds its another public hearing of the first selectman's proposed text amendment. The hearing will begin 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.