Supporters of putting senior housing and a medical facility on Baron’s South say it will fulfill a need and be a gem for the town. Opponents say the unknown costs and lackluster state of Westport’s finances is a dangerous combination.
Ultimately, the Representative Town Meeting has the power to stop the development of 23 town-owned acres before it really begins. On Tuesday, the Planning and Zoning Committee of the town’s legislative body heard the arguments for and against the development.
Leading the opposition is Bart Shuldman, a Westport resident who submitted a petition that appealing a zoning amendment. That regulation, while not a site plan, help the proposed facility become a reality. In arguing against the project, he said the unknown costs could be extremely damaging as Westport deals with increasing employee costs, the and a that will be voted on today.
“I think senior citizens get hurt the worst on this,” Shuldman said. “Do we want to roll the dice? Want to roll the dice on another social service when we don’t know what the impact is, we don’t know what the costs are. We’re just going to go ahead…and do it?”
Indeed, the project is still in the planning stage as a committee drafts a request for proposals to find a potential partner. First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who is proposing the senior housing with his administration, has said there will be a skilled nursing facility for 84 patients and 66 one- and two-bedroom rental units for seniors.
Joseloff said this amendment is “enabling legislation” that will allow them to explore costs, how a person qualifies to live there and other specifics. He sharply rebuked Shuldman.
“Mr. Shuldman, you ought to get your facts straight,” Joseloff said. "Your presentation was, I’m using the word ‘amazing’ for the number of inaccuracies."
The first selectman argued that the housing fulfills a need, and that an unspecified amount of revenue could be made from the personal property tax (which includes supplies but not the land itself).
“We want to keep Westporters here whether they make millions of dollars a year and have stock options or whether they have $10,000 in a savings account,” Joseloff said.
G. Kenneth Bernhard, an attorney and former state representative, spoke in defense of the affordable housing project. He was appointed to the Baron’s South Committee by Joseloff to help draft the request for proposals.
"This has got the potential to be a gem for Westport. We’re just starting out," he said. "You can’t reverse the process and turn down this amendment. This is the beginning of a very long process."
As a neighbor of the Baron’s South property and the Westport Center for Senior Activities, Rob Corona of Foxfire Lane said he doesn’t know how all the employees, let alone the residents, will be able to park.
“When you have a senior care facility, you’re going to have nothing but ambulances 24/7, food trucks and where is the parking?” Corona said.
The RTM committee meets again on June 8 and will draft a recommendation for the full RTM on whether to approve or overturn the amendment. On June 14, the full RTM will decide the fate of the amendment.