Thursday, March 26, 2015
By James Lomuscio
Three separate petitions are underway asking the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) to overturn the Planning and Zoning Commission’s (P&Z) March 19 vote which senior housing advocates say sabotaged a planned senior housing complex by declaring the town-owned, 22-acre Baron’s South Property open space.
Unless reversed, the P&Z’s 4 to 1 with 1 abstention approval of its own map amendment effectively ends eight years of efforts to build a senior housing facility on 3.3 acres of Baron’s South land.
It also makes the existing Westport Center for Senior Services on the same property nonconforming, potentially dashing any hopes of planned expansion.
The three petitions to overturn the P&Z action are being circulated by G. Kenneth Bernhard, a member of the Baron’s South Committee (BSC), attorney and former state representative, longtime Westporter Martha Aasen, and the Coalition for Westport (CFW), a new political party aimed at responsible development.
In addition, sources with knowledge of the efforts under way say that two RTM members are also planning to ask the full, 36-member legislative body to overturn the P&Z.
To overturn the P&Z, the RTM would need 24 votes, or two-thirds of its 36 members, to keep alive the planned senior housing complex, 60 percent of the units deemed affordable.
The BSC, established five years ago, met at Town Hall today to reaffirm it is not giving up on the project, and the petitions were discussed. Each petition requires at least 20 signatures to be put on the docket, and petitioners say they expect far more than the minimum.
“The people involved in this process are visionaries,” Barbara Butler, town human services director who was at today’s meeting, said about the BSC. “They did their research, and they know this community from many different perspectives. It makes me sad that there seems to have been so little respect for that (by the P&Z).”
Bernhard said tonight he was circulating his petition via email.
“They require 20, but there’s nothing wrong with having 200,” Bernhard said. “When we acquired this property, we promised the town we would have a debate to with what to do with this property. Now, four people have pulled the rug out from under a project that has been in the works. It’s spanned two administrations.
“Last week the Planning and Zoning Commission pulled the rug out from the possibility of any constructive use of municipal land with little or no input from the public,” he added.
“The town had sent out two RFPs for a proposal that was perfectly consistent with the P&Z regulations that they had written only a few years ago. And at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute, when the proposal was on their doorstep, they sabotaged five years of work.”
Bernhard stressed the new plan was for the development of 3.3 acres “leaving 17.7 acres as open space which the developer would manage and make available to the public.”
Aasen said tonight she already has minimum amount of signatures required and is actively seeking more.
“There’s enough space on Baron’s South for a compromise,” Aasen said. “We can have open space and affordable housing. Back when the first proposal was turned down, (developer) Jonathan Rose answered every question the P&Z had and was leaving considerable open space.”
Two weeks ago the P&Z had heard a pre-application from developers Jonathan Rose Companies and Freshwater Associates 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.
“I was very disappointed, as were others, when the P&Z turned us down and came up abruptly with their plan to declare the whole property as open space,” Aasen said. “If this holds, the Senior Center could not expand. It would be nonconforming.”
Those sentiments were shared by the third petitioner, the CFW. Jo Ann Davidson, a CFW founding member, secretary, as well as a former RTM member, reiterated that the new plan for the senior housing complex is a compromise between the need for senior housing and preserving open space.
“And back in 1998 that property was bought for municipal use, not specifically open space,” she said.
According to RTM member Matthew Mandell, who chairs the RTM P&Z Committee, even though there are three petitions, “ultimately it is one request for an overturn,” with each petitioner having the standing to speak before the legislative body.
“The RTM P&Z Committee is ready to field this petition,” he said.
Mandell said his committee will review the request on April 6, April 20, and that the matter will go before the full RTM April 28.
Bernhard said tonight is looking forward that date.
“I’m energized because now the issue potentially can come before the town’s legislative body, which represents the entire community, and this is a good thing,” he said.
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