By James Lomuscio
Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) was short and sweet tonight with the unanimous reelections of Hadley Rose as moderator and Eileen Flug as deputy moderator.
A Board of Education request for an appropriation of $142,412 to the 2011-2012 budget from its Rentals & Reimbursements Expenditure Account also sailed through without a hitch.
The reason the meeting ran just 40 minutes was that two of the more involved issues had been withdrawn—a sense of the meeting resolution regarding the Baron’s South senior residential community and a request to adopt by ordinance an ethics code such as one prepared by the League of Women Voters of Westport.
The Baron’s South resolution was the big one, pulled because the town administration and the Baron’s South Committee have since changed gears. They are willing to rebid on the project with fewer affordable housing units based on Board of Finance input.
Originally, some RTM members had sought a sense of meeting resolution endorsing the committee’s choice of Jonathan Rose Companies as the preferred bidder and not offering a rebid.
“I am grateful to the Board of Finance for the time and effort they have put into a review of the project and plan to incorporate their viewpoints in a rebid proposal for Baron’s South,” First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said at the meeting’s start.
“There had been talk about having a sense of the meeting resolution on your agenda tonight, but that has been withdrawn with my support,” he added. “I and the Baron’s South Committee certainly want to have additional RTM input on a rebid. But if the seven-member Board of Finance had trouble agreeing on various points, I know that the 36-member RTM would have even more difficulty.”
He suggested the input could come individually, in committee reports, or orally at a future meeting.
Earlier in the day, Joseloff had sent RTM members copies of memos from the Town Attorney and Town Planner about the affordability component of the project to build the senior housing facility on the 22-acre, town-owned parcel on South Compo Road.
Based on the finance board’s input, Joseloff said the Baron’s South Committee agreed to a minimum of 30 percent affordable units as opposed to the 60 percent presented in its original RFP (request for proposal). The 30 percent minimum, he said, would meet the minimum standards of state affordable housing statute 8-30g.
Town Attorney Ira Bloom said he favored the 30 percent minimum because that was the figure set in the 8-30g statute that developers seeking to build in Westport under the statute would have to meet.
“I should also point out that State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg told the Baron’s South Committee last Friday that he would have a difficult time in pursuing legislative changes to 8-30g if a 20 percent level is used,” Joseloff said, noting that finance board members had spoken of going as low as 20 percent.
Other changes include: up to a total of 150 units in the first phase instead of the 100 initially planned; the increased size of units; a Phase II recommendation; and a maximum use of eight acres instead of six.
Joseloff also specified that the new RFP would state: the units are rental only; there would be no entrance fees; it would offer unbundled services; the facility would have access to the Westport Center for Senior Activities; and it would not include a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). Joseloff had previously described a CCRC as “big business” that did not belong on town property.
“I agree with the Board of Finance that any bid should indicate use of the land that would benefit the entire community and be open to all,” Joseloff said. “So to sum up, I welcome RTM input on a rebid, just as we have had input from the Board of Finance.”
He stressed that the only way the project can go forward is with broad community support.
“In Westport, it’s a long process,” Joseloff said. “So, I ask your indulgence in helping us shape a rebid, one that you, the Board of Finance and all Westporters can embrace in total, if not in each individual detail.
“We are seeing in Washington now an inability to compromise of some very important issues,” he added. “Let’s not repeat that in Westport. Let’s demonstrate support for seniors, those who seek affordable units and those who would like market rate, by moving ahead together.”
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