Monday, August 17, 2015
(Editor’s note: WestportNow today begins a special series on seniors and housing in Westport. Future installments will cover those who have left Westport and the current state of senior housing in town.)
By James Lomuscio
Nick Berardi, 83, and his wife Josephine, 84, have lived in Westport for 51 years. They raised their children here, made a number of longtime friends and enjoyed the community’s many offerings. They couldn’t think of a better place to spend the rest of their lives.
But now, their home is on the market. And memories of relaxing days at Compo Beach and starlit evenings at the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts will be just that, memories.
“It’s the cost,” said Berardi, a retired accountant. “The taxes, the utilities, the repairs, the maintenance. It’s the upkeep of your house.
“My wife especially wants to stay in Westport,” he added. “We figured we’d sell our house and look for rentals with two bedrooms, $1,500 a month, but you can’t find anything for $1,500. As a last resort, we’d move to Florida, but it’s too hot for 12 months of the year, and we like the amenities here.”
Neil and Judy Hardy, residents for 48 years, share a similar dilemma.
“We’re looking around,” said Neil, 86, a retired medical illustrator. “It’s serious. We talk about it a lot.”
“If health issues are okay, then we can probably maintain our life in our house,” said Judy, 80, who now needs a walker to get around. “I think one of the questions for all of us is where would we go?”
Neil said that living in his home is getting tougher, and that he can no longer maintain his house and property like he did 10 years ago. Moving in with or near their son in Florida or daughter in Arizona is not an option.
“I can’t deal with the heat,” he said. “I’m a New Englander.”
Jorgen Jensen, 85, a town resident since 1961 and who had served on a number of town boards and commissions, said he and his wife Patricia, 81, might have to move due to health issues.
“I’m in very good shape, but my wife fell several times, and she has a pretty hard time getting around,” Jensen said, adding that a StairMaster is the only reason they can remain in their home.
“If she falls again or something happens to me, we’d have to move,” said Jensen.
But like the others, the question is where.
“We’ve looked at condos, but most are on two floors,” Jensen said.
The only condominium complex with ranch-style, one-level units is Whitney Glen, but the units are too pricey, he said.
Berardi is partial to the two-story condominiums at Harvest Commons, but with two-bedroom units starting around $800,000, he says they are way out of reach.
Jensen looked out the window of the Westport Center for Senior Activities, where he and the others had gathered on a recent morning before the town-run facility’s cafe bustled with scores of seniors.
Past the parking lot and where trees stand, Jensen and the others had hoped there would a 135-unit, senior housing complex on 3.3 acres of the town-owned Baron’s South property.
The project had been planned for seven years. But it came to an abrupt end when the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) in March declared the land open space.
The vote, upheld narrowly by the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), even makes the Senior Center on the town land noncompliant.
“It would have been heaven on earth,” said Neil Hardy, citing the proximity to the Senior Center.
He looked forward to the increased amenities, such as a pool and new exercise facilities that the senior housing, with 60 percent of the units set aside as affordable, would bring.
“There was no warning; it came out of the blue,” said Jensen about the P&Z vote. “There are 16 acres we were not going to touch. We were only going to use 3.3, and they can leave the rest for history and their Sherwood Forest.”
During the P&Z public hearing, during which P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens, 60, wore a green armband, one opponent of senior housing referred to the land as “our Sherwood Forest.”
“I don’t think they were environmental extremists,” said Judy Hardy. “I just think they had a preconceived point of view about the land.”
P&Z member Catherine Walsh, 60, had been a staunch opponent of using Baron’s South for senior housing, saying such a facility should be on private land, not town property.
She now co-chairs the P&Z Senior Housing Committee with P&Z Vice Chairman Jack Whittle, 52. The committee has since held two sparsely attended meetings.
The first drew only 15 persons. Members of the former Baron’s South Committee (BSC) were noticeably absent. Only 10 persons came to the second meeting, one of them Human Services Director Barbara Butler, 72, who worked closely with the now disbanded BSC.
At the meetings, myriad ways to entice developers to pursue projects on private land were discussed. They included group homes for seniors to continuing care residential communities (CCRC) to multifamily senior housing without support services.
There was even the suggestion of putting three ranch houses for seniors on an acre in a one-acre residential zone.
Jensen, who has served on the RTM, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Conservation Commission, and the Flood and Erosion Control Board, said he thought it odd that the P&Z committee appeared to be going back to square one, despite all the research that the Baron’s South Committee had done over the past seven years.
“A lot of people are discouraged,” Jensen said. “There’s an election coming up, and the P&Z will have to run on its record. Seniors vote.”
He said he hopes a new P&Z might overturn the open space designation and return to the former P&Z amendment allowing senior housing on Baron’s South. If that happens, he said, the project could move forward in about two years.
“We’re all aware of the fact that it will be too late for us to come to the party, but it will be for those who follow us,” Neil Hardy said.
Berardi said it is imperative to plan for affordable senior housing since the number of seniors continues to swell.
“I believe that more than 20 percent of the residents in Westport are seniors, and if the town makes it so difficult that they have to move, what’s going to replace them?” Berardi asked.
“Young couples with children will replace them. The school population will rise, the budget will, and so will the taxes.
“We’re not a powerful political group, so we’re pushed to the side,” he added.
Quiet among the seniors was Fran Reynolds, 87, who has long dealt with senior issues as a former director of Westport’s Department of Human Services.
“The thing I have problems with is getting things done,” she said about the home she and her late husband Robert moved into in 1962.
“I had a wonderful husband, and six years ago I lost my wonderful husband,” Reynolds said. “Bob did a lot for the house in terms of the property.
“Where would I go?” she asked. “I’d probably move closer to one of my daughters.”
Next: Seniors who have moved, many with regrets
Posted 08/17/15 at 05:00 AM Permalink
There are some options at The Saugatuck in Westport - One level condominiums - IF Asset and Income requirements are met—
Um, no. It’s a full house at the Saugatuck, unless you’d prefer that the seniors wait in the parking lot for the next available unit?
This long overdue article serves to underscore the disservice done by the P&Z, not only to seniors, but to the town as a whole. We need a smarter, kinder, more responsive P&Z. The remedy lies at the ballot box.
I disagree Mary-Lou - what is needed is another opportunity in Westport for these types of Condos - Not the overpriced rental apartments that were proposed.
and Jean Marie—there are opportunities there - as they become available - TO THOSE WHO ARE ELIGIBLE. Many westport homeowners will not be.
Million, or near million dollar condos are not the answer for seniors, living on fixed incomes.
Mary-Lou are you familiar with The Saugatuck in Westport? It is MODERATE INCOME CONDOS for Seniors who meet income and asset eligibility. I believe there is state or Federal money available to assist in building this type of living for seniors and disabled. The Saugatuck has been very successful. When someone moves - the units are quickly re-sold. They are self sufficient and as they are condos taxes are paid to the town. This is what is needed - not over priced “affordable” rental units.
Right Marcy, you have to wait until the current tenants die, there’s no other way to say it, for apartments to become available. So, what are seniors supposed to do in the meantime, while waiting? Many will die themselves, or as some have done, move somewhere else, as in to another town that will have them or another state.