Tuesday, November 20, 2012
By James Lomuscio
Since Westport’s Board of Finance wants greater financial return from the proposed senior, rental housing facility on Baron’s South, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff told the finance board chairman today that he is willing to compromise to expedite the project.
That means expanding the number of units, reducing the amount of affordable ones and rebidding for a developer.
Joseloff’s memo to Avi Kaner came in response to the finance board’s rejection last month of the developer the Baron’s South Committee had selected, Jonathan Rose Companies, to build a 100-unit facility with 59 of the units affordable.
The senior center has been a key initiative of Joseloff and Second Selectwoman Shelly Kassen, who have said they wanted to provide seniors who have given much to the town over the years an opportunity to age in place.
“Our preference was to start negotiations immediately with the Jonathan Rose Company (JR), the recommended bidder,” said Joseloff. “The JR proposal addresses our needs for mixed income rental housing for seniors and provides a solid financial return over the term of the lease.”
According to the proposed JR lease, the company would develop only between 6 to 8 acres of the 22-acre town-owned parcel and pay the town an initial sum of $500,000 plus $250,000 a year for 75 years.
“It is a balanced and responsible plan,” said Joseloff. “However, we recognized that your board seeks a greater financial return as we provide senior housing on Baron’s South.
“In an attempt to satisfy that demand, we went to the RTM (Representative Town Meeting) with a proposal to rebid,” he added. “The rebid would reduce the affordability minimum of the RFP to 30 percent in order to meet the 8-30(g) requirements, even before going to the P&Z for such a change.”
Many RTM members, while showing support for negotiation, were against a the idea of a rebid because it would decrease the number of affordable units. The RTM, however, has yet to give a sense of the meeting as to how the legislative body might vote.
“Above, all we want to avoid pitting one town board against another,” Joseloff said. “This memo is an attempt to find common ground. We believe now the best way to do that is through an expedited rebid.
“We hope your Nov. 28 meeting will conclude that they represent a reasonable compromise and endorse them so we can move ahead,” he added.
Among the basic points of the rebid proposal are: flexibility on number of units, from 100 to 150; 100-150 units; no more than 8 acres to be used; all other aspects of RFP, e.g. service coordinator, kitchen, remain the same; future development options would be outlined; “an unlimited number of scenarios can be demonstrated;” a 30-day response time; a review of bids to be done in executive session with finance board and RTM designees; an agreement that the optimal bid forms basis for negotiation; mixed income rental housing only, not a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).
“The final bullet point is critical to underscore,” said Joseloff. “We will not issue a rebid that would include a CCRC.”
Among the reasons why a CCRC would not be included is because it would “utilize the entire parcel, except for the Center for Senior Activities.” One of the bidders whom the committee rejected, Affirmative Hillspoint, had proposed doing just that, Joseloff said, with combined 220 units and 48 skilled nursing beds, “a far more intense development.”
Another reason is cost, said Joseloff.
“With entrance fees of $400,000 to $870,000 and monthly fees of $3,500 to $6,000, it is difficult to qualify a buy-in model CCRC as affordable or mixed income,” he said. “It is high end. A senior must have significant assets remaining after their buy-in in order to cover future living expenses. “
Philosophically, Joseloff dismissed a CCRC on Baron’s South as “a big business on town property, and the pro forma financials from Affirmative Hillspoint certainly bear this out.”
“While we are not mandating that the developer of Baron’s South be a nonprofit, it’s a far different model to have a CCRC benefiting in a huge way a handful of owners—and using town property to do so,” Joseloff added. “We cannot support it.”
Posted 11/20/12 at 08:55 PM
Looking at this strictly from an economic viewpoint the First Selectman is doing the right thing. I don’t under stand the magic behind a 75 year lease. It really makes no sense, why tie the land up for 75 years. Try a 25 year lease with two 25 year year renewals. Furthermore The Town of Westport will be around for 75 years will the company leasing the land be around for 75 years, very doubtful.
The tax payers who paid for the land deserve a market rate of return and what has been mentioned so far is woefully inadequate.
Expediting a re-bid is wrong. There are too many questions that need to be answered. When Rose went to the BOF he said 70% of the units would be occupied by Westporters based on his experience. When Rose answered questions at the RTM hearing he said 90%.
So what is the percentage? Given the fact we CANNOT guarantee any Westporter, why did he chnage from 70% to 90%? Was he trying to pursuade the RTM?
With the asset test, how mnay Westporters meet the requirement? Can any be under the hurdle? If we go with Section 8, lower income people, do any Westporter meet that? Lets get the details on the asset test.
What will be the incremental cost to the town? Roads, sewers, fireman, police? Will any amount we get from the proporty be used up by the extra cost of the town?
What is the towns liability for the housing?
The BOF did the right job, protecting this town from rushing into a new program where too mnay questions still exist.
Please do not be forced by Joseloff to rush into another bidding process without the answers. And, please gte an independnet copnsultant to come in, one who is NOT tied to this project and give us answers we can trust without any bias. And please assmeble a new committee to review it all.
Well, at least Joseloff is finally explicitly steering this project instead of hiding behind the veneer of the Barons South Committee. It reminds me a bit of the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain…“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
Unfortunately, this latest “negotiation” takes off the table the only other viable proposal for the town and allows Joseloff to continue to steer the project towards his preferred bidder, the outcome he has been scheming toward for some time. I don’t know why this is his decision to make and hope the RTM and finance board stand up for what is best for the town in spite of the pressure on them to go along with the First Selectman’s scheme.
The Board of Finance, at a minimum, should formally request the following before any new bid is started:
1) Definition of Westport resident. Is that 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, etc
2) The HUD documents detailing how waiting lists are prepared and managed for affordable homes.
3) The HUD documents detailing how the asset test is determined, and performed and then how many Westporters can obtain affordable status against the defined rules
4) A recognized expert present all the above, after the BofF reviews the HUD documents, so legitimate answers are giving to the very serious questions of affordability, Westport preference, etc.
The answers given at the RTM meeting were done by the winning bidder, who gave different answers to different hearings. We need the facts so all Westport understands what we are getting into.
If the BofF allows this to go forward without the details, without knowing the consequences, without understanding the cost to the town (roads, sewers, police, fireman), then they are NOT doing their fiduciary responsibility to the residents of Westport.