A text amendment that would have lowered the minimum age for residents of the Whitney Glen condominiums has been rejected by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Text Amendment 648, turned down by the P&Z last week, would have created a new residency designation called "age-restricted senior housing." That would have required that at least one occupant or owner of a residential unit accessible only by stairs be 55 years old or over -- seven years younger than the current minimum standard.

The condo development -- off East Main Street, near the Compo Shopping Center on Post Road East -- has 62 units. All of its residents are 62 years old or over. Whitney Glen's age restriction constitutes a condition of the P&Z's approval of the complex in 1979.

Whitney Glen does not have elevators, and its upper-floor units are accessible only by stairs.

Installing elevators is not feasible, according to Larry Weisman, the lawyer who presented the proposed amendment to the P&Z on behalf of the Whitney Glen Condominium Association. Allowing younger residents at Whitney Glen would have expanded the market for Whitney Glen residents looking to sell or rent out their homes, Weisman argued during public hearings for the amendment.

But the P&Z disagreed, writing in its resolution on the amendment that it would "not be in keeping with the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development because it reduces the diversity of housing stock and hampers the development of `true senior' (62 or older) housing." The P&Z also argued in the resolution that Text Amendment 648 had the "potential to make it more difficult for retired seniors to find suitable and affordable dwelling units" in Westport.

P&Z Chairwoman Cathy Walsh, Vice Chairman Jack Whittle, Secretary Chip Stephens, Nora Jinishian, Al Gratrix and alternate Michael Krawiec voted against the amendment. Ron Corwin abstained.

During public hearings on the proposal, commissioners frequently expressed concerns that the amendment could diminish the town's housing stock for senior citizens. A number of Whitney Glen residents also criticized the amendment, with several contending that lowering the minimum residency age would change the character of the condo development.

"I'm disappointed," Weisman said Wednesday, reacting to the P&Z's decision. "I thought it [the amendment] was a very measured way of addressing a pervasive and persistent problem that these people have experienced. I think that it would have been better to have recognized their right to govern themselves by majority rule."

Whitney Glen's Board of Directors recently voted to lower the condo complex's minimum residency age, a move that was also backed in a vote by a "substantial majority" of Whitney Glen condo owners, according to Weisman.

The failed amendment represented the latest proposal in a long-running bid by Whitney Glen condo owners to lower the complex's minimum residency age from 62 to 55. In 2010, they tried to achieve that goal by filing a site plan and special permit application, but that proposal was shelved after Town Attorney Ira Bloom determined that lowering the minimum age would require a text amendment to zoning regulations.

Weisman ruled out proposing another age-restricted text amendment to the P&Z, but added that other "options" could allow the Whitney Glen Condominium Association to lower the minimum residency age at the condo complex.

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