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Senior Housing Plan Pitched to P&Z

By James Lomuscio

About 100 persons, many of them seniors, turned out tonight for a Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission meeting in which town officials sought commission approval for the first step toward building senior housing and a skilled nursing facility on the town-owned, 22-acre parcel known as the Baron’s South property.WestportNow.com Image
Selectman Shelly Kassen outlined her thoughts on the application to P&Z members. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com

After three-and-a-half hours of comments from local officials and the public, the P&Z decided to resume hearings on Thursday, Nov. 4.

“People tell me, ‘Demonstrate leadership, Gordon. Leave a legacy,’ ” First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said, adding that he could not think of a more important legacy than allowing seniors to remain in their town.

As outlined by Joseloff and Selectman Shelly Kassen, the plan calls for 66 senior housing units, 60 percent of which would be affordable, and nearby, an 84-resident skilled nursing facility.

“Nobody in this room can deny the need for housing for seniors, and nobody can deny the need for affordable housing,” Joseloff said, adding that the facilities would be self sustaining from rentals and not be a burden to taxpayers.

If the P&Z approves the appropriateness of the facilities at 60 Compo Road South, it will be only “the first bite of the apple,” Joseloff said. Subsequent meetings would involve a P&Z text amendment, a request for proposals for a not-for-profit developer to construct the facilities and additional town approvals.

According to Kassen, the plan for property, which currently houses the Westport Center for Senior Activities, would be a less intense use for the land, creating a campus like atmosphere for residents more than 62 years old.

“We’re not trying to create a mega center,” said Kassen. “We wanted something we thought would not be an intense use of the property.”WestportNow.com Image
A crowd of about 100 persons, many of them seniors, attended tonight’s meeting. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

If the P&Z denies the request for appropriateness, the plan is dead in the water. If that were to happen, Kassen said, the town should seriously consider selling the land to help pay down its debt.

As she listened to the proposal, Rose Anne Preston, a senior, commented that such housing was long overdue.

“I’m definitely for it because it’s a beautiful location,” she said. “The Senior Center is there. It’s close to the library, the Police Department, the Westport Woman’s Club, all the stores and the farmer’s market.”

Shelly Lipsett, a Westport resident for more than 40 years, offered similar support as he stepped outside the auditorium during a break.

“I think it’s a great project that’s desperately needed in this town, and it should go forward,” he said.

While most spoke favored the proposal, John Laurino, a former Board of Finance member, said that the town, instead of developing the project, would be better off selling four acres for several million dollars to a private senior facility.

He said the town would miss the opportunity to capitalize on the centrally located land he estimated to be worth $10 million, much more if subdivided.

Marcy Puklin, a social worker, said that while she supported the idea of senior housing, she felt that a skilled nursing facility was inappropriate.

Earlier, Joseloff had noted that the nursing facility would allow seniors who need care to be near their spouses who do not.

At the end of the evening, Joseloff urged the commission to approve the request unanimously to show their support for Westport’s seniors.

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