A proposal to build senior housing on town-owned land next to the Westport Center for Senior Activities may head to the Planning and Zoning Commission by the end of this year, according to a town official.
"They hope by the end of fall to go to the P&Z," Jack Klinge, chairman of the Westport Representative Town Meeting's Long Range Planning Committee, said Thursday night at a sparsely-attended meeting in the Town Hall auditorium. "The next six to eight months will be gathering data to go to P&Z."
The senior housing would be built on 23 acres, on property known as Baron's South, next to the Westport senior center and include units for independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care, according to the proposal. The town would donate the land to a developer, and the developer would pay the cost of building and annual operating expenses. The town would only be responsible for operating the senior center, Klinge said.
Klinge said town officials have backed away from an earlier plan to build both senior housing and "workforce housing," a term used to describe housing aimed at lower-income town employees, on Baron's South.
Westport Selectwoman Shelly Kassen said Friday that an agreement has not been made between the town and a developer.
"We're moving along. It's a slow process, but I'm happy we're pressing forward," she said. "What we're working on is putting together a conceptual program to include independent living for seniors with access to services, such as meals, and, separately, on the same property, skilled nursing beds," Kassen said.
Kassen declined further comment, saying she was pressed for time, and she wasn't available later in the afternoon. Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff wasn't available Friday afternoon.
Joy Leighton, a Westport senior who was at the senior center Friday afternoon, said she favored the plan on Baron's South. "I think everyone here would like to see housing, and it's a good spot," she said.
Klinge said the first priority for town officials is to get confirmation Westport residents want senior housing on the town-owned property and then town officials need to develop a facilities plan, management plan and financial plan.
"If common sense has a vote, I think it has a good chance of moving forward at pretty good speed," Klinge said. "I think that could be a major project for us to look at over the next eight to 12 months and beyond."
The town solicited public opinion on the question in surveys sent to residents in December 2007, and Joseloff said at the time that the survey results "demonstrated an undeniable need to expand housing options in Westport."
At that time, the town was reviewing a conceptual plan to build a three-story building for seniors that would include 43 units — 28 one-bedroom units and 15 two-bedroom units — and 56 townhouse-style units for seniors and town employees. The units in the three-story building for seniors would be rented.
About a year later, workforce housing was still on the table, and a town report entitled "Baron's South: An Opportunity for Senior & Workforce Housing" from November 2008 stated that a senior couple in a one-bedroom unit could have an annual income up to $97,000 and that rent for a senior couple would be about $2,200 a month.
Weston & Sampson Engineers Inc. of Rocky Hill, hired by the town to develop a master plan for the Baron's South and Jesup Green properties, stated in its September 2007 report that Baron's South could accommodate 90 units of senior housing and 33 units of mixed-income housing.
Some Westport residents previously voiced support for moving the Westport Weston Family Y to Baron's South, rather than the Mahackeno property where it's currently proposed, but Weston & Sampson said the Y would be too intense a development on Baron's South and would be out-of-character with the neighborhood. Weston & Sampson also looked at putting emergency services, including the town's fire and police departments and animal control division, on Baron's South, but said it wasn't a good idea because of all the traffic near that property.
"Housing will result in a less intensive development that will work with the existing slopes and topography, avoid clear cutting [of trees] and result in fewer traffic concerns than more intensive developments," according to the Weston & Sampson report. "The development of housing is also consistent with the adjoining land uses."