Town plans to sell Myrtle Ave. house, others may follow
The town could soon post a “For Sale” sign in front of residential property it owns at 99 Maple Ave.
An agreement between the town and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties to sell the historic house was unanimously approved Wednesday morning by the Board of Selectmen.
The proposed sale of the property is the result of a comprehensive study of all 12 town-owned residential properties by Selectman Helen Garten, who presented conceptual plans for them recently to the Board of Finance, said Dewey Loselle, the town’s operations director.
At that time, she said 99 Myrtle Ave. was the “first priority” because the tenant, whose lease ended in May, wants to move. The three-bedroom house, with 1,209 square feet of living space, was purchased in 1972. The current rent is $1,500 a month.
Loselle said the original concept for the house was that it would be torn down to make an egress to the adjacent Baldwin Parking lot, but it has since been designated a historic property.
“The town has no use for this property,” Loselle told selectmen. And, as a historic property, it requires a high degree of maintenance, he said, adding it would fare better in private hands where it would be valued and consistently maintained.
Loselle said the town issued a request for proposals to realtors with experience in selling antique houses and downtown properties and five agents applied. He said the agreement reached with Berkshire Hathaway was beneficial to the town, since its fee is 4 percent, compared with the 6 percent average.
“The house serves no purpose to the town now or in the future,” said Selectman Avi Kaner. “Doing this, it’s more likely to be maintained, put back on the tax rolls and reduce our maintenance expense.”
First Selectman Jim Marpe asked who potential buyers of the property might be.
“A young professional couple or a single person or empty-nester,” said Darcy Sledge, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway. She said there would be challenges in selling the property because there is only one bathroom, no garage and it looks onto a parking lot.
Resident Don Bergmann asked what town approvals will be needed prior to putting the property on the market.
He was told it needs a referral from the Planning and Zoning Commission, and that was on the commission’s Thursday agenda. The sales agreement is also subject to that referral.
The sale also needs approvals from the Board of Finance, Zoning Board of Appeals and final approval from the selectmen. But it doesn’t have go to the Representative Town Meeting, said Gail Kelly, assistant town attorney.
Bergmann also asked for the sales price. Loselle said that’s not been decided, although a market analysis has been done and they do have a ballpark figure.
Bergmann also said he would like to see any funds coming from the sale going to land purchase or historic preservation. Marpe said other boards and commissions seem to be supportive of that.
Resident Dick Stein expressed concern that the property might be demolished after it was sold to a private owner. “Can you stop it?” he asked. He said the property could even wind up being used for commercial purposes.
He called the potential sale “very shortsighted.”
Local historian Morley Boyd said he supports what the selectmen were doing. “It shows the town’s commitment to historic preservation,” he said. ,.
The house was renovated in 2007 and the town has invested $232,118 in it, according to information Garten compiled.
During her presentation on the properties to the Board of Finance, Garten said one of the goals of the plan — still a work in progress — is to make better use of the town’s assets.
She said all of the residential units the town owns are at least 40 years old with some more than 100 years old and the rentals have been maintained at minimal levels. She said the town hasn’t upgraded or made any investments in them, such as modernizing the interiors or doing energy upgrades.
Nine of the properties are currently leased, the other three are vacant with two of those being used for storage. Rent for the properties is fair market rent, based on a 2013 appraisal, adjusted annually in line with the Consumer Price Index. And although monthly rents for six of the nine rentals may be at or below the maximum monthly rent allowed under state affordable guidelines, the units don’t give the town moratorium points.
Garten said it’s time for a change and gave options for what would make sense for each property and questioned whether the town should even remain in the residential rental business.
After the Myrtle Avenue property, she said the next priority are five town-owned buildings on the Baron’s South property all of which are located along South Compo Road.
They are all part of a family compound owned by Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff, an Austrian-born chemist who founded Evyan Perfumes and created its White Shoulders fragrance. The Baron died in 1983.
“What we do with one property will affect the others,” she added.
The three bedroom house at 52 South Compo Road, which dates back to 1910, has 2,684 square feet of living space and is currently rented out. It served as staff quarters when the Baron and Baroness occupied Golden Shadows, another property the town owns. The annual rent is $15,960.
The one bedroom garage apartment, with 900 square feet of living area at 52B South Compo is also rented out and shares a septic system and driveway with 52, she said. Annual rent for that property is $14,100.
She said an option would be to upgrade both units, but outsource the property management. “I don’t think they will ever be luxury rentals,” she said, adding they could be made affordable housing and eligible under affordable housing guidelines, which might also help the town gain moratorium points. But certain restrictions apply before the points can be gained.
“We can create affordable units ourselves,” she said. “It’s a smart thing to do and the right thing to do with these properties.”
Then there’s Golden Shadows, built in 1959 as the Baron’s residence, which, Garten said, is worth saving. Currently the building is being used to store Westport Library books, but that use will no longer be allowed.
She said the best possible use “for this unique property” seems to be office space for a not for profit group, she added.
The most interesting building, she said, is at 70 South Compo. “It’s huge with five bedrooms and a finished attic,” she said, adding it was the Baron’s guest house, but now is completely empty. “The town made the decision not to rent it,” she said, adding sometimes the 4,230-square-foot building is used to train police dogs.
“The interior needs renovation,” she said. The building is well suited to be divided into apartments, she said, adding the town could partner with an outside organization to turn the building into affordable housing, again gaining a number of moratorium points.
The 872-square-foot building at 72 South Compo was the chauffeur’s cottage and is currently used by the Public Works Department for storage, she said. It could be kept as is.
There is another group of properties at Longshore Park including three stand-alone cottages and the Knoll house, which is a three unit apartment building.
She said those properties are not as well built as those on the Baron’s property and would be much more expensive to maintain and upgrade for rental. She said sale of these properties isn’t feasible given their location in Longshore Park. The current annual rent for the cabins ranges from $14,940 to $25,320 while the Knoll house rents range from $12,180 to $21,600 annually.