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Op-Ed: Can We Assure Westport Seniors Get Baron’s South Priority?

This letter to the editor was submitted by Judy Starr, a District 1 member of the Representative Town Meeting.

A by the First Selectman [Gordon Joseloff] to the Planning and Zoning Commission that the town contribute Baron’s South for senior housing and a skilled nursing facility. Supposedly, this will meet an existing need and allow our seniors to remain in town. This is a very valuable piece of land that has existed until now as open space. If designated for the proposed use, it would be removed in its entirety from both open space and the town’s tax rolls. But will Westport and its seniors be getting the value they’ve been repeatedly promised and deserve?

The P&Z has already enabled the use of this land for such a project.  Before the P&Z this Thursday, Feb. 17, is the next step, text Amendment #625.  This which would amend our regulations to permit such construction on town-owned land.   However, a central and critical question remains unaddressed:  Can we guarantee that Westport seniors get first priority to whatever is built on this land?  If we are preparing to sacrifice a valuable and irreplaceable piece of land, the town and its seniors should have such a guaranty in place, in advance. 

If, and only if, we can make such a guarantee, should we continue along with this process. That means that this Thursday the Planning and Zoning Commission needs to find a way to stipulate, in the revision to its rules, that Westport’s seniors must get first priority in any facility built on the town’s land. This may not be possible, given the January 28 memo from the Town Attorney’s office to the P&Z Department, and the subsequent recommendations in the Staff Report (pp. 6-7) noting legal concerns about doing so. And yet, this priority is integral to the promise given our seniors, and all of us, as the reason for the proposed change of use for this unique and irreplaceable land. 

Why should our seniors find themselves at the end of a waiting line, with no priority, when the land we will all have sacrificed is Westport’s own?  If the town can not safeguard this promise, the concept needs to be seriously reconsidered.  To do otherwise would be nothing less than a giveaway of this land.  Would that be in the interest of our seniors or anyone else in our town?

John Izzo February 16, 2011 at 12:56 PM
JUDY STARR' comments are right on point regarding a health care senior facility on Barons South. I dont see how you can discrimate againest non westporters from having equal rights to this proposed senior health care facility, much like our low income housing where I belive the majority of tenants never lived in Westport, in todays economic climate I dont think we should proceed with this project. John Izzo
Anonymous February 16, 2011 at 01:07 PM
I'd like to see this and three other issues answered ON THE RECORD by our elected officials: 1) Is there in fact a moratorium on adding "full time care" beds so that the state does not run afoul of Medicare (or caid?). I believe that there is - which means that one third of this venture is simply shifting beds from another town to ours. That makes zero sense. 2) Darien just reached the moratorium level for 8-30g points and I understand that protecting Westport is a key reason for developing private housing on town land. However, for each senior rental unit we create, we're awared .5 of an 8-30g moratorium point - whereas if we develop it for family rentals - we can get up to 2.5 points per unit. If satisfying 8-30g is a goal - shouldn't we strive for the 5X benefit? 3) And finally - since the town is in such dire financial straits - why not sell the land to the highest bidder? If that turns out to be some sort of senior housing group - then that's great - once we all understand that Westport seniors can't be prioritized now (or more importantly for me - in the future), then at least we'll all benefit by re-filling the town coffers. I've been told the land is worth at least $7M? That's pay for a lot of teacher and firemen salaries. And who knows - the high bidder might be the Y?
Bob Liftig February 16, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Let's sell Baron's to a developer to build more McMansions on it that can later face foreclosure , and the grifters who bought them with no money will pull off the usual Westport thing of putting their mortgage money into their IRAs and refusing to move leave until the Feds bail out the banks who are stuck with these monuments to baseless self-importance, and the rest of us can kick in our tax dollars to subsidize their indulgences. Then, when the housing market recovers, the McMansion grifters can sell their houses at a profit, pay off their now reduced mortgages, pocket the difference, and move to Florida where there is no state income tax...and live happily ever after. It worked before. Welfare for everyone, I say!
Anonymous February 16, 2011 at 09:16 PM
Baron's South has minimal if any residential appeal and value - but significant commercial appeal and value. I'd rather see $7M go into the town's piggy bank then spend additional resources (police, ambulance, etc) supporting a town sponsored nursing home.

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