Westport affordable housing plan still under way despite state refusal to sell land

WESTPORT — A plan to create a new affordable housing neighborhood in town remains under way despite a state refusal to sell property the homes would be built on.

The proposal involves requesting a portion of the state Department of Transportation’s maintenance lot at 900 Post Road East to create a townhome community.

“This is an almost 11-acre site that’s utilized by the state to store salt and dirt and trucks,” Danielle Dobin, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I do not think that (the) highest and best use for 11 acres of land literally in the heart of Westport, accessible to all transportation, located in the Greens Farms School district, which is one of our wonderful elementary school districts, is for use as a salt dump when it could be instead much better utilized for housing,” he said.

The plan hit its first roadblock when the state DOT rejected the proposal in February. But Dobin said she has continued communication with the state regarding the proposal.

“I do think we’re making some headway to transfer the land to the Westport Housing Authority,” Dobin said. “But the COVID-19 pandemic really put a stop to the conversation.”

The proposal would create 40 to 60 units in a 90 percent affordable community. Dobin said she’s hopeful a letter-writing campaign from Westporters and out-of-town residents alike can get the state to transfer a portion of the property.

“With regards to an impactful sized development for Westport that would supply housing for families — to call it a dramatic change would be an understatement,” she said.

The proposal has garnered support from state and town officials who say they see it as an opportunity to address a need in town.

“If ever there is a time to be focused on this issue, it’s now,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said. “I appreciate the collaboration with the Planning and Zoning commission in trying to address what’s clearly a shortage of affordable housing in Westport.”

Marpe said recent events across the nation are a reminder of the need to create a diverse population.

“To me, this is about taking action as a community,” he said. “The good news is we have been taking action towards this.”

Selectwoman Melissa Kane echoed his sentiments.

“I think because we will have strength in numbers and because right is on our side, we have an opportunity to convince the state that this is the best use for certainly the four acres of that piece of property,” she said.

Neighbors to the property also showed support for the proposal.

“The idea of having this new project is so exciting,” Lory Nurenberg, a West Parish Road resident, said. “We are completely 100 percent in support of this. We would be proud neighbors.”