Thursday, March 19, 2015
By James Lomuscio
UPDATE (adds additional P&Z comments) By a vote of 4 to 1 and 1 abstention, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) tonight approved a map amendment declaring the town-owned, 22-acre Baron’s South property open space.
It took two weeks for the P&Z to put through its own amendment that it hoped would end eight years of efforts to build a senior housing facility on 3.3 acres of Baron’s South land.
It will now be up to the 36-member Representative Town Meeting (RTM) to muster 24 votes, or two-thirds, to keep the project alive by reversing the P&Z action, something it has done in the past on controversial P&Z votes.
Just last week the P&Z had heard a pre-application from developers’ representatives for the planned 165-rental unit, senior facility on the property at 60 Compo Road South. The pre-application was for a new plan since the P&Z had shot down the previous one in September.
The new plan calls for 60 percent of the units be listed as affordable, which is what the P&Z said it wanted in its first denial.
P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens, Vice Chairman Jack Whittle and member Catherine Walsh were staunch supporters of the open space amendment, and all three had been vocal opponents of the senior complex.
Walsh, for one, has repeatedly argued that any senior complex should be on private land. Three times tonight Walsh said that she was “disgusted” with opposition to the open space amendment from senior housing proponents.
“We had three or four people not involved in the project who testified,” she said about the more than 24 who spoke last week, imploring the P&Z to defer its decision until the senior housing proposal had been heard. Among them was First Selectman Jim Marpe.
“I’m so disgusted,” Walsh said.
“The entire town benefits from open space, even the seniors,” Whittle said, noting that seniors comprise 10 percent of the town, and only a small percentage of them would benefit from the housing facility.
In a talk Wednesday to a Greens Farms Church group, Marpe said 22 percent of Westport residents were 60 or over. Town officials have long argued that Westport has a longstanding need for additional affordable senior housing.
The senior complex was key initiative of former First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Second Selectwoman Shelly Kassen, both Democrats. They said they wanted to offer seniors, who had contributed much to the town over the years, the ability to age in place, rather than being forced economically to leave.
Whittle left open the door for senior housing advocates to return to the P&Z, saying they could ask for “a clawback” of part of the parcel.
“There’s already a part of the parcel that’s polluted by a building -– the Senior Center -– I’m not sure that’s the right word,” he said.
He suggested that they could show they could make “judicious use” of the land surrounding the Westport Center for Senior Activities, weighing “the benefits of being grabby, how likely we would be to go for it.”
P&Z member Andra Vebell, a Democrat, was tonight’s lone dissenter.
“We are elected officials, and we have to listen to our constituents,” she said.
Vebell added that the P&Z, which had asked the Baron’s South Committee (BSC) for more affordable units, should hear the new proposal.
“We have to see that through,” Vebell said.
“Maybe we can have our cake and eat it, too,” she added about balancing two conflicting town needs. “We have to try.”
P&Z member Alan Hodge, also a Democrat, abstained, saying the arguments for and against were powerful.
He also said allowing the senior housing facility would give Westport much needed points toward a moratorium against the state housing statute 8-30 g.
The statute allows a developer to come in and to override municipal zoning laws if a town does not have 10 percent of its housing stock deemed affordable, which Wesport does not.
The town purchased the Baron’s South property in 1999 for municipal use. In 2004 it opened the Westport Center for Senior Activities on the property.
Town officials have said the facility needs to be expanded to meet growing needs and that the senior housing development would mitigate any expansion.
Posted 03/19/15 at 11:44 PM
Congratulations and thank you,
Next entry: Friday, March 20, 2015 - First Day of Spring
Previous entry: With Praise, Finance Board Approves School Budget