Letter: Loss of Baron's South open space for senior housing a bad deal
Published 2:22 pm, Tuesday, April 28, 2015
This morning I read, with dismay, that last night (April 20) the RTM voted to recommend overturning the P&Z's decision to declare Baron's South as protected open space. This is very disappointing news.
Westport's population of seniors (people 60 and over) numbers approximately 5,000. The 165 proposed units means that, if every unit were rented to a Westport resident, fewer than 4 percent of Westport's eligible seniors would enjoy this housing. Given there's no guarantee of preference to Westport residents, the higher probability is that significantly fewer Westporters will wind up being able to call this development home.
While the intention of providing current Westport seniors with affordable housing stock for their golden years is noble, the facts suggest that far fewer than 165 of them will actually be able to reside there.
To give a developer the virtually fee-free use of more than 4 acres of land (and probably significantly more, between setbacks and additional needs, when all is said and done), valued at many millions of dollars, for the benefit of so few Westporters, seems like a bad deal for Westport. Providing such a scarce and valuable resource in this manner has the effect of the taxpayers subsidizing private enterprise without guaranteeing that Westport, and the taxpayers who are funding same, get anything of comparable value in return, either in cash or in kind.
If the taxpaying public of Westport is, in fact, so committed to partnering with private parties for the creation of additional senior housing supply to serve Westport's seniors, there's nothing that would prevent The Town of Westport from purchasing private property for these noble purposes.
Far better, I think, for the town to invest in re-purposing already developed property than to sacrifice even a few sacred acres of centrally located open space, and especially when there is a very real possibility that what starts as 3 to 4 acres, not including setbacks, evolves into some greater number as the real needs of the new facility are discovered.
The elected officials of Westport, along with the taxpaying public, are stewards of Westport's scarce and valuable resources, with a duty to preserve and protect the assets of this community now and for the future. The executives of private enterprises, like the Jonathan Rose Co., no matter how nice and well meaning, have a fiduciary obligation to maximize their shareholders' returns. Unless and until there is the perfect alignment of interest between the parties, ensuring that Westport gets no less than the value it is contributing to deal, there should be no deal at all.
It really seems like the "idea" of senior housing is trumping all logic and reason. Shocking that anyone would want to simply give away so much (precious open space) in exchange for so little.