DOT reconsiders; Westport affordable housing plan on state land gets second wind

900 Post Road East.

900 Post Road East.

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WESTPORT — Town officials remain cautiously optimistic on a plan to create a new affordable housing neighborhood on land owned by the state Department of Transportation now the DOT says it is willing to negotiate.

“We had a back and forth over the summer with several letters,” Danielle Dobin, chair of the Planning and Zoning commission’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “And at this point, we heard affirmatively from the Department of Transportation that although they initially told us it wasn’t possible to accommodate any transfer of any part of that land, they are going to be taking another look at it to see whether or not they can’t find some sort of accommodation that may work.”

Officials had requested a portion of the DOT’s maintenance lot at 900 Post Road East to create a townhome community. It would be built and managed by the Westport Housing Authority.

The proposal has been a collaborative effort between the Planning and Zoning Commission and the selectman’s office. It was proposed to proactively address affordable housing in the town where slow turnover in the Westport Housing Authority’s four affordable housing facilities has caused long waitlists.

Last year, the town announced affordable housing pre-applications were available for the first time in nearly four years and received more than 3,000 applications for 221 apartments. Of those, only 100 were randomly added to a waitlist.

Officials have also noted that, with much of Westport already being developed, there are few opportunities to build fresh on vacant land.

The collaborative proposal garnered support from state and local officials who said they saw it as an opportunity to address the need for affordable housing.

Neighbors to the property also showed early support for the plan, but it hit its first roadblock when the state DOT rejected the proposal in February.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said the tone of the DOT has since become much more of partnership and collaboration instead of outright denial.

“I’m optimistic that they’re at least giving serious consideration to the plans instead of just rejecting it out of hand,” he said.