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Op-Ed: Debunking Baron's South Myths

This letter to the editor was submitted by Stephen Daniels on behalf of the Baron's South Committee. He is co-chair of the committee.

We write as members of the newly formed Baron’s South Committee, a nonpartisan group of committed Westporters appointed by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff to help move the senior living community project on the property forward. It is a visionary effort with one major goal -- to help Westport seniors remain in our town.

Our charge is to engage the community in better defining the independent living and health care facility components of the plan. We will also prepare the request for proposal to which development teams will respond.  Further, we will vet and rank the bids and make a recommendation to the First Selectman.  

Our team is diverse. Some of us have a great deal of experience in town and state government. Others are expert in geriatric law or finance. But we all share enthusiasm about the project and appreciate the need for more diverse housing options in Westport. We recognize that Baron’s South is ideal for this use given its central location, its great beauty and the vital and extremely well used Westport Center for Senior Activities which opened on the property in 2004.

 Our meetings are open to the public, and we invite you to attend. Right now, however, it is important that we debunk the myths that have already circulated about this project.

Myth:  The developers have already been selected and the Jewish Home will be moving beds with patients in them, thus providing no new beds for Westporters.

False.  No developer has been selected. There have been industry experts aiding in developing plans for the project. They have shared their knowledge pro bono with no guarantees of “business with the town” later on. Because of a state moratorium on creation of new health care beds, the successful bidder for the health care facility will most likely have to transfer the permits for a certain number of short term and long term beds to the Baron’s South location.

This is going to be a long process. Whoever is occupying the beds on a short term basis will most probably be discharged by the time the permits are transferred. Long-term patients are in most cases quite elderly – average length of stay is about a year due, quite frankly, to mortality rates. There will be turnover in either case which will provide beds for Westport residents.

Myth:  Westporters don’t need this facility and even if they did they will not have priority in housing or in a skilled nursing facility.

False.  The law allows preferences, and the healthy majority of residents would be from Westport.  In Canal Park for example, 40 of 50 units house a person who worked or lived in Westport. Research done by the Department of Human Services indicated that seniors are very unlikely to leave their communities. The health facility would provide short-term rehabilitation for people for all ages – something needed throughout the community.  Waveny in New Canaan and Nathaniel Witherwell in Greenwich clearly accept town residents first, as would we.

Our seniors need more housing options, particularly affordable units. There are long wait lists for existing units. Demographic projections show that in 2014 there will be approximately 5,600 seniors in town, and about 900 senior households with less than $50,000 in income.

Myth:  The land was purchased to remain as open space and now the town is going to give it away.

False.  The land was purchased so the town could control it and use it for municipal purposes.  Other municipal needs were considered and deemed inappropriate because of the topography and the location. We appreciate open space and will look for a plan that retains as much as possible, and for a development team that maintains the property to allow continued passive enjoyment by the public, which by the way, the town simply cannot afford to do now.

We will also look for the best deal for the town, whether in taxes if there is a for profit developer or payment in lieu of taxes if nonprofit. Finally, at the request of the Board of Finance, the First Selectman is seeking an appraisal of the land under its current zoning as a residential subdivision.  We look forward to the information that will come from the appraisal. 

Myth:  This is a rushed proposal and the process is flawed.  Come back when you know all the facts.

False:  No one is rushing this proposal. Since the Weston & Sampson engineering study in 2007, there have been a number of public meetings -- with the RTM Long-Range Planning Committee, forums in Town Hall and at the Center for Senior Activities, and then the many meetings since the conceptual plan was first presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission in October 2010. Projects take a long time, and there will be more time still -- all the while many of our seniors have been asking for months when they can put their names on an application list. The process in our charter is for the P&Z to determine the appropriate use of town-owned land, and they are doing so in an open and deliberative manner.

We have an opportunity to create a unique senior campus in the middle of town with affordable housing complimented by the availability of high quality health care services.  These services would include preventive medicine, short term rehabilitation, as well as assisted living services. Most importantly, Westport seniors would enjoy a preferred status for many services delivered on campus. By remaining among us, they will continue their substantive contribution to the Westport community and the additional resources they will draw will further the town’s economic revitalization.

Our committee is anxious to get started, and we welcome your participation in our future forums and meetings. Our goal is to create the strongest possible Request for Proposal—one that will best meet the needs of our growing senior population and best serve the Westport community at large.

Baron South’s Committee Members:

  • Stephen Daniels, Co-chair
  • Marty Hauhuth, Co-chair
  • G. Kenneth Bernhard
  • Jo Fuchs-Luscombe
  • Rev. Ed Horne
  • Shelly Kassen
  • Sharon Rosen
  • Yvonne Senturia
  • John Thompson
  • Paul Van Orden
  • Barbara Butler, Ex officio
Bart Shuldman March 24, 2011 at 09:02 AM
Since you do not know who will be managing the complex, you can not state with any accuracy that 'Whoever is occupying the beds on a short term basis will most probably be discharged by the time the permits are transferred.' When and if the facility is built, you cannot say at this time when the person whose bed is transferred is ready to leave the facility or has just arrived. You go on to say ' Long-term patients are in most cases quite elderly – average length of stay is about a year due, quite frankly, to mortality rates.' Can you tell us now when that person took the bed, or will that be determined when the facility is completed? What if that person just arrived? Can you tell the residents of Westport how much this will cost us? Will a new department be needed to manage our entry into the health care field? Before any approval for the facilities to be built, may I ask that you present the cost that Westport will incur to manage this project and the ongoing oversight? Before approving the project, will Westporters get to learn all the costs and potential tax increases we face ? Will you be that open? There are other issues with your writing but please answer one question--If you want to hear from all citizens in town, why have your meetings at 9:30 Friday MORNING? We know one group of resident who can attend at that time, but to be fair, please start by making the meetings at times when ALL residents have an opportunity to attend.
Patrick Beranek March 24, 2011 at 02:08 PM
I appreciate the clarity that this editorial brings on what is clearly a controversial issue that the whole town should have a say in deciding. I hope this is the first of many communications that will help educate and inform the town prior to any decisions being made, because the process to date has definitely had a "back room" feel. Unfortunately, it took a number of citizens speaking out to force Josseloff to do what should have been done in the first place. The town can do a much better job publicizing these proceedings and making sure they are held at a time when more citizens can attend and participate. David raises some good issues above. Also, the question has been raised about why The Saugatuck on Bridge Street and all the open land over there isn't being considered for further development if the town decides to go ahead with this plan. Open space is very hard to come by and developing Baron's South while there is already developable town property being partially used for this purpose is incongruous.
Peter Flatow March 24, 2011 at 07:05 PM
There is one key question that to the best of my knowledge has not been asked - publicly. Under what enabling legislation does completing this project come? Why is the town (should the town) be in the health care/housing business? I went to a couple of the earlier meetings with Mr Joseloff and Ms. Kassen. Yes they were open in that we were given ample opportunity to speak but to suggest that any listening going on to be an over statement. What I see is working the system. Meetings, blue ribbon task force who have already drunk the kool-aid and decisions long ago made. There are lots of things we "need" in Westport. One key criteria should be what should be left to private businesses and what should be paid for with public funds. As taxpayers we are going to wake up someday and wonder how did this happen.
John McCarthy March 24, 2011 at 07:09 PM
David, Thanks for your questions. I would also like to know why other town owned properties, such as the old Saugatuck School building on Bridge Street isn't being considered for additional senior housing and why the fixation on Baron's South? With an empty and unusable ball field on the side, plenty of space in the front, the Bridge Street location could be a great location for some additional units of senior housing. Not next to the Senior Center? Correct, but given the topography of Baron's South, the plan is to have a shuttle bus between the senior center and the housing. So really just as easy to run a shuttle from Bridge Street to the senior center.
John McCarthy March 24, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Yes, this is exactly what breeds cynicism towards government. Many opportunities to be heard, with no chance to change minds.

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