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Baron’s South Housing: Potential Gem or Risky Gamble?

Even with the plan in early stages, senior affordable housing on Baron's South draws the gamut of opinions.

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.

Patrick Beranek June 01, 2011 at 01:27 PM
I appreciate the concerns Mr. Shuldman raises about this proposed development, especially in the face of Joseloff's vitriolic response to anyone who disagrees with his pet project. We always hear about the "need" for this development, but I would still like to know how a senior housing center the town already owns, The Saugatuck, fits into this plan and why that facility couldn't be expanded if there truly is a "need". It makes a lot more sense to expand/improve on what already exists than to develop a whole new project on open space.
Don Bergmann June 01, 2011 at 01:44 PM
As I learned last night, the First Selectman does not presently intend to submit the final details for this important Senior Project on Baon's South to a vote of the RTM or the Board of Finance unless obligated to do so under the Town Charter. I stated last night that the final details are deserving of such an up or down votes in order to assure that the Project is viewed by a majority of our elected officials as good for Westport. The Project will involve the Town making available to a developer land at Baron's South, very attractive and valuable land, at a below market cost. That will be necessary to provide an important financial subsidy for the Project since the Project involves subsidized housing units and a medical facility for the seniors who will occupy those units and use that facility. I hope many weigh in on this and other relevant issues as the Project details are developed by the First Selectman and the Baron's South Committee. The First and Second Selectpersons have committed to consider with care all such inputs. This is a very important undertaking. Don Bergmann
mark holod June 01, 2011 at 02:53 PM
As I understand this, the text amendment, among other things, restricts the development of a proposed health care facility to public land. Considering the portfolio of Westport town-owned lands, Baron's South, by default, is the only parcel that will qualify. If Baron's South is in any way restricted in use to such a facility by the text amendment, precluding any other possible uses now or in the future, the value of the property will be significantly lowered. We bought the property for $7 Million and I understand the Assessor lists it's current appraised value considerably higher, without restrictive use clauses. Restrictive use will drive value down. Also, if it is true that Westport plans to donate, or contribute the land at some well below market value for the seemingly earmarked , preferred plan, then this would appear to be a truly irresponsible use of underutilized assets in a time when budget constraints are being felt by all. A more logical approach would be a project where the property is either purchased or landleased long term at market value to a not for profit group who also pays annual PILOT (Payments in lieu of Taxes). Competition here only benefits Westport. The concept of a social welfare program is a commendable use for the property. However, backroom deals that involve compromising valuable Town assets is irresponsible in good times, let alone in the financially problematic times we find ourselves trying to fight our way out of today.
Bobbie Herman June 01, 2011 at 03:02 PM
The State mandates that Westport have a certain percentage of affordable housing units. The present number of such units is well below that requirement. Not only would the Project allow seniors, who have given so much to Westport, stay in town, it would also go towards meeting the requirement, preventing developers from putting up multi-family units in the middle of residential areas.
Don Bergmann June 01, 2011 at 04:46 PM
The mandate is not a mandate, but is important because, if not met, it allows avoidance of zoning rules if a developer constructs "affordable" housing. Westport will neverbe able to satisfy the 10% affordable housing goal under the law. Westport could achieve a four year moratorium under the law if a far lesser increase in affordable housing is achieved. For detailed information, our P&Z Department can provide insight. For judgments as to what Westport should do with respect to the law, RTM members Matt Mandell and John McCarthy are very knowledgable. I am sure they would convey their thinking if asked. Don Bergmann
Bart Shuldman June 01, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Friends and neighbors, During the hearing last night, Gordon Joseloff spoke passionately about how Westport has not spent any money to date on the Baron’s South project. In fact he used words such as ‘zilch’ to bring his point across. I requested this morning that Ira Bloom share with all of us the legal bills his office has submitted to the Town of Westport for their work on this project. While I cannot guarantee that Mr. Bloom will agree to this request, I can share with you the retraction just made by Mr. Joseloff. It brings to question how many more statements he and his office have made that are just not true. and what the true financial impact of Westport getting into the nursing care business will be: WEDNESDAY, JUNE 01, 2011 Joseloff Issues ‘Clarification’ on Baron’s South Project First Selectman Gordon Joseloff today issued a “clarification” of remarks he made Tuesday night to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) Planning and Zoning Committee about municipal funds spent on his proposed senior housing project on Baron’s South. “In my presentation, I said no taxpayer funds had been spent on the project,” he said in a statement. “I should have said that no additional funding has been requested and spent on the project since a study authorized in 2007. “Clearly staff time has been spent by those in the town departments—including the Town Attorney’s Office—
Anthony Karge June 01, 2011 at 09:30 PM
http://westport.patch.com/articles/first-selectman-clarifies-cost-of-barons-south-housing Here is a brief story on the 'clarification' issued by the first selectman.
Don Bergmann June 01, 2011 at 10:10 PM
For those interested, there was a never a public airing or discussion of the Weston & Sampson Report. There was a preliminary presentation of some limited aspects of the Report three months before the actual report was issued. While the final report did highlight several inappropriate uses for Baron's South, the First Selectman, in my judgment, has distorted the Weston & Sampson Report to promote his particular agenda for Baron's South. Many who have read the report do not believe it was worth the money expended. While the proposed Baron's South project may turn out to be a good one, details have yet to be developed, that conclusion should be made ultimately by the RTM and the Board of Finance, not by the First Selectman. Don Bergmann
Tom Prince June 02, 2011 at 12:37 AM
So Joseloff accuses Bart Shuldman of an "amazing...number of inaccuracies," then "issues" a lengthy "clarification" the following day about his own. Will Joseloff's vanity project be a glass house furnished with stones? Awk.......ward!
Jack Whittle June 02, 2011 at 01:54 AM
Joseloff's"clarifying" statement: major integrity fail. He was not truthful, and he should simply man up and own it. Something like "what I said was factually wrong, in fact the Town's money was spent on the Weston & Sampson report, as well as on the allocable portion of salaries of a number of town employees involved in numerous aspects of this project. I apologize." Add in his derisive comments regarding the honesty of the petitioner (by the First Selectman, really?) and you have the very definition of hypocrisy.
Bart Shuldman June 02, 2011 at 03:47 PM
Friends and neighbors: It was clearly disappointing to learn that John Kondub could not deliver the facts and figures regarding the OPEB liability our town now faces last night. What was even more troubling was the lack of facts and reasons why the actuaries could not get the work done in time. There were no reasons given, no clear informtion of what is going on, not even a hint of what problems they found. Adding insult to injury, both Shelley Kassen and Gordon Josleoff seemed not to care. Neither of them took anytime to say how upset they were that the actuaries did not get the work done and how they will work hard to get us answers immediately. Instead Shelley Kassen took the time to send insults my way. You would think that the financial issues we face and the potential need to significantly increase our property taxes would have our leadership truly concerned. I guess not. Instead, they focus on implementing a new benefit program called baron's South where once again we have no details on the future cost that Westport will incur and no details on the actual need for Westport to enter the nursing home business. Have we not learned from OPEB??
Bart Shuldman June 03, 2011 at 02:49 PM
Serious Conflict Of Interest- At the Board of Finance Meeting Thursday night the one board member who lashed out against me was Kenneth Wirfel. It was troubling that instead of demanding to get the OPEB answers, he chose to insult me and not focus on the real issues. I have now found out Mr. Wirfel sits on the Board of the Jewish home for the Elderly--the one firm that has had serious ties to the Baron's South project. There has also been discussions that the JHE is the firm that would be moving their beds to the new Westport Nursing Home if approved. Given Mr. Wirfels serious conflict of interest he should not have said anything as his statements were clearly biased. As a Board of Finance member his showed his lack of concern regarding the OPEB situation and chose to show his personal concern for Baron's South. We should all be troubled by this.
Arthur Aitchess June 03, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Mr. Wirfel responded to Mr. Shuldman's statement in WestportNow. (No, I have no business interest in WestportNow.) As for Mr. Shuldman, he gave a slick (though irrelevant to the subject) presentation at the RTM P&Z meeting. My, he is skilled using computer technology...or do staffers at the publicly-traded company he heads contribute their time to this private effort? Is there a "conspiracy" ?

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