Valerie Seiling Jacobs On Senior Housing: Say “No” To Text Amendment

Valerie Seiling Jacobs read Bart Shuldman’s letter advocating a “yes” vote on the Baron’s South senior housing text amendment. She takes the opposite view:

In 2011, after careful deliberation, P&Z adopted regulations to allow the construction of senior housing on Baron’s South and twelve other town-owned sites so long as 60% of the units meet the state test for “affordable.” Now, P&Z is being pressured to loosen those regulations, including reducing the required percentage of affordable units from 60% to 20%. Indeed, some people are claiming that without these changes, Westport will never get senior housing.

This is simply not true and P&Z should not give in to this pressure. First, these regulations pertain only to town property. Developers will still be free to construct senior housing on privately owned property.

Second, reducing that percentage runs afoul of the very rationale that P&Z originally used to justify the use of town-owned land for this purpose. As P&Z previously recognized, if the Town is going to donate an asset for this purpose—as opposed to putting the asset to its highest and best use, which P&Z recognized was NOT senior housing—then the town still needed to receive something valuable in return.

Under the existing regulations, that value consists of: (1) senior housing for a tenant population that is predominantly needy and which might not otherwise have housing options; and (2) credits toward a moratorium against some of the more onerous provisions of §8-30g, a state statute that applies to towns (like Westport) that fail to meet a threshold level of affordable housing.

The proponents of this amendment have tried to justify this switch from 60% to 20% on the ground that an additional 20% of the units will be restricted to “moderate-income” tenants.

But that argument is misleading. If adopted, this Amendment will likely result in a tenant population that is overwhelmingly well-to-do.

Part of the Baron's South land.

Part of the Baron’s South land.

The income test for those so-called “moderate” units is so high (just under $113,000 for a one-bedroom) that wealthy people will still qualify. A person could have $4.5 million in the bank and be collecting maximum Social Security and still meet the income test. Why should the town donate a valuable asset for the benefit of people with those kinds of means—folks who can afford to live anywhere? It’s one thing for Westport to subsidize a project for the genuinely needy, but a whole other thing to subsidize this population.

Moreover, these so-called moderate-income units will not satisfy the requirements of §8-30g, which means that they won’t gain the town any points when it comes to the moratorium. Basically, the town is getting very little in return for giving up a valuable asset (not to mention open space).

To make matters worse, this amendment proposes to exclude all of the units, including the market-rate units, from the existing town-wide cap on multi-family units. (Currently, no more than 10% of Town’s housing units can be part of multi-family projects.)

But there is no principled reason to allow that kind of increased density. With thirteen potential sites in play, we could easily find our fire, police, ambulance, and other town services seriously overtaxed.

This proposed amendment is being driven solely by a developer’s financial demands—and those demands cannot be reconciled with the core rationale of P&Z’s previous decision, nor can they be reconciled with our existing zoning regulations or the Town Plan of Conservation and Development, which place a premium on open space.

I recognize that P&Z is in a difficult spot. Some seniors are truly desperate for this kind of housing. And I understand that some people are saying that the 60% requirement is not workable.

They may be right—but the answer is not to roll over and settle for nothing more than what is already required. Developers are already required to dedicate 20% of any multi-family project to affordable housing (or to make a payment in lieu).

And, by the way, the promise that we will reap the benefit of property taxes is also only what taxpayers are already due. Of course these developers should pay real estate taxes—after all, they are not paying rent.

The answer is to go back to the drawing board to see what other types of concessions the town can negotiate in exchange for providing this kind of subsidy.

Let’s hope that P&Z has the courage to stand up for all of Westport and to do what is right for everyone. Settling for 20% is simply not good enough.

33 responses to “Valerie Seiling Jacobs On Senior Housing: Say “No” To Text Amendment

  1. Amen. Very reasoned.

    I’m tired of giving government handouts to the 1%.

  2. For those of you who may have missed it, here is Jim Marpe’s op-ed explaining the project. This will address the misinformation presented above.

    Time For Senior Housing to Become A Reality

    After more than six years of study, debate and difficult negotiations, the proposal to build senior housing on the Baron’s South property has reached a crucial point. The Planning and Zoning Commission must approve an important “text amendment” in the coming weeks in order for the project to proceed.

    The purpose of this op-ed is to update Westport taxpayers on the project’s background, the current status of the proposal and the important need to move it forward.

    Since last year’s election, my administration has continued to negotiate with the selected developer on behalf of the town’s seniors and taxpayers to implement the best possible senior-housing solution for all Westporters.

    Specifically, the plan would primarily serve Westport seniors, provide a host of valuable amenities, maintain quality open space and provide a favorable financial return to the taxpayers.

    The P&Z received public comment at several recent hearings. We made modifications to the text amendment based on the concerns and questions posed by the P&Z at those meetings. The P&Z will now begin to discuss the proposed text amendment in its work sessions beginning Thursday, Sept. 18, and may vote that night or at a future session. Without passage of this text amendment as written, this well-thought-out and exciting proposal will not proceed. Senior housing and the other planned senior amenities would not be built on Baron’s South in the foreseeable future.

    Westport’s Board of Selectmen on June 9 voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding with the developer. This agreement was the result of many years of study, deliberation and diligent work by the bipartisan Baron’s South Committee, two different Boards of Selectmen, and the Board of Finance. I believe the plan as proposed achieves the optimal arrangement for the town that is a win for residents of the property, a win for all Westport seniors, and a win for the taxpayers

    Key characteristics of the current proposed project are:

    1) Twenty percent of the units are classified as affordable, 20 percent moderate-income, and 60 percent market rate. These ratios correspond more closely to Westport’s demographics than a predominantly low-income project. With these ratios, the developer will not need uncertain government funding, which would be required with higher “affordable” ratios. Private funding will ensure that Westporters can receive first priority as residents of the new senior housing.

    2) The units would be 100 percent rental, with no expensive buy-in requirement. Services such as dining and housekeeping would be available a-la-carte instead of bundled. Affordable and moderate units would be available in both one- and two-bedroom variations.

    3) Approximately eight to 10 acres of the 22-acre Baron’s South property would be utilized for the senior housing. The remainder of the property would be maintained by the developer for the benefit of all Westporters as open space in an accessible, park-like setting.

    4) An amenity center would be constructed next to the town’s senior center, providing services such as a therapeutic pool, salon, exercise facilities and a cafe for the use of all Westport seniors. It would also negate the need to spend $4 million of taxpayer funds to expand the senior center.

    5) Every Westport taxpayer would benefit in this public-private partnership. While the town would retain full ownership of the land, the developer would commit to investing $60 million in our town and pay fully transparent property taxes estimated to approach $1 million a year, making the facility one of Westport’s largest property taxpayers.

    In addition to benefitting our seniors, the project would reflect well on all of Westport. This is an innovative approach to creating a senior-retirement community. It would establish housing and open-space assets of which we can be proud. The Baron’s South project would ultimately improve our property values by making Westport an even more desirable place to live by providing housing options for current and future Westport seniors.

    Senior housing on Baron’s South is a unique opportunity for Westport that will pay dividends for many generations. The future of senior housing in Westport now rests in the hands of the Planning and Zoning Commission. It is my hope that the text amendment is passed as submitted, and that the thoughtfully considered plan for this senior facility can become a reality with the Baron’s South project becoming yet another of Westport’s “crown jewels.”

    Jim Marpe is the Westport First Selectman.

    • How will sub-optimal use of public assets increase property values? How do we know that the proposed project produces the highest value usage for the public land?

  3. Jayne Mauborgne

    Iam a person who will NEVER qualify, although I have lived here since 1950. Somehow that doesn’t seem right. Jayne Mauborgne

  4. Also to be noted is that there are a large number of Westport seniors that would meet the financial tests of 8-30g. Those are the residents upon which we should direct our focus.
    Don Bergmann

  5. Presumably the developer has been well aware of the affordable housing requirements for quite a while. Why the need to renegotiate the percentage now?

    I always become suspicious when I see a comment like the following from Jim Marpe’s op-ed, “Without passage of this text amendment as written, this well-thought-out and exciting proposal will not proceed. Senior housing and the other planned senior amenities would not be built on Baron’s South in the foreseeable future.” This is an implicit threat, the more eloquent equivalent of a “Must act now!” sales pitch intended to push someone into making a hasty decision without thoroughly examining the potential costs and benefits.

    If the current developer is concerned about the affordable housing requirements perhaps there are other developers without such concerns? Have we thoroughly researched this? If we haven’t already, perhaps we should. Our town and this property are valuable jewels. I don’t see the logic behind sweetening the deal for the current developer without exploring other potential options.

    • The original 60% proposal was rejected a couple of years ago by the Board of Finance. Reasons: couldn’t prioritize units for Westport seniors since lower income projects utilize government funding, the financial return to the town was inadequate compared with the appraisals, and there were no amenities or services offered to the remainder of Westport’s seniors. A new RFP was issued that took care of these problems. The result is a superior project that is a triple win.
      1) win for the seniors that will live at Baron’s South, across all income groups
      2) win for Westport seniors since they will have access to the amenity center adjacent to the senior center
      3) win for all Westport taxpayers as this will become the third largest taxpayer in Westport

  6. Simply put, why shouldn’t any local resident have the option of remaining in their hometown when age becomes a mitigating factor of living independently, regardless of income? I’m well aware of many elder Westporters who have contributed in time, treasure and/or talent for decades who have no other choice but to move to another community due to the lack of anything existing for seniors needing some form of limited care/assistance or merely the benefit of community as they age. Put yourselves in their shoes when you’re 80-something and then re-think your positions.

  7. Cheryl McKenna

    As Chair of the observer corp of the League of Woman’s Voters of Westport
    I have attended all these meetings and social services to garner a need and the direction.
    While the league has a supporting letter for this Barons South project .. I think not to bore you 🙂
    I would like to say that two elected administrations have studied this and sent it back to the drawing board on numerous occasions …
    P and Z may send it back but their concerns are less troublesome and next go around may leave other Westporters unhappy with more smaller units , therefore more traffic and a less respectable developer to name a few … In other words playing Monday-morning quarterback after 7 years of playing this game of barons south may not be wise. I have been watching and I come with no horse in this race so please support good hard work with a yes and let’s get on with it 🙂

  8. Mr. Kaner,

    Your response to the author’s comments is offensive, disrespectful and particularly jarring coming from an elected official in such an important position of leadership.

    To dismissively characterize Ms. Seiling -Jacob’s substantial and carefully researched comments as “misinformation”, and with no backup whatsoever, as you have, implies that she is pursuing an unsavory agenda, which she most certainly is not.

    Your unfortunate comments are adversarial and positional and offered at a time when the community at large would be best served by your leading and advancing a constructive dialogue that thoughtfully and rigorously addresses specific issues and concerns in pursuit of securing the best result for the greatest number: The taxpayers of Westport!

    • Agreed. What I find particularly jarring is that Mr. Kaner would characterize Ms. Seiling -Jacob’s argument as misinformation then attempt to rebut it with what appears to be a very professionally-crafted op-ed.

      • On the subject of misinformation. There is no assurance that any taxes will be paid. If the project is not successful, who will make good on the promise to pay taxes? What is Westport’s exposure should the project fail?

        ” Every Westport taxpayer would benefit in this public-private partnership. While the town would retain full ownership of the land, the developer would commit to investing $60 million in our town and pay fully transparent property taxes estimated to approach $1 million a year, making the facility one of Westport’s largest property taxpayers.”

        As part of the argument in favor of the project, the assertion has been made repeatedly that developer will be one of the largest taxpayers in Westport. If the supporters find this argument pursuasive, then why was no consideration given to putting the land to other uses that might generate more taxes?

        When I read statements such as “Every Westport taxpayer would benefit…” I realize that the major issues are political and not economic.

      • I did not mean to imply that the writer intentionally mislead people with her comments by my use of the word “misinformation”. That word should not have been used and I apologize for that connotation.

    • Ian. Your comments to Avi are clearly out of line and do not reflect his approach to inform Westporters of the situation. Your decision to attack versus have a respectful dialogue is quite disappointing.

      What our town does with Barons South will effect is all for a very long time. The fact that Avi and the other Selectman are trying to make this project good for many is the right leadership and the debate very important. Attacks are sad way to get involved.

  9. Very confusing. Why am I reminded of Scotland?

  10. Lisa Marie Alter

    I’m with you, Nancy: CONFUSED

    I know I pay a premium to live in Westport. Can someone please tell me: why are we “DONATING a valuable asset ?” Why not just then SELL the property to a developer — we get the money – BIG BUCKS – in our town coffers, PLUS the property tax benefits.

    We have clearly lost our way here.

  11. Sell the property. Use the funds to subsidize senior taxes. That would let more stay in Westport than a few rooms in a Senior Nursing Home.

  12. Lisa Marie Alter

    I second that.

  13. I look forward to an affirming vote on #677. I’ve lived in this town for 40 years, raised my children here, and been active in the community, watching it change every year. I believe we have long needed to have senior housing in our own community. It’s time! I urge the Planning & Zoning Commission to make this plan a reality.

  14. When a senior can no longer live alone in their home, they need full-time live in help, must move to housing with some level of services, or they must depend on friends or family to care for them. Falls and isolation are life changing. The inability of seniors to transport themselves for necessities or to simply buy a birthday card for their child becomes impossible. Seniors cannot figure out how to solve these problems without options! Anyone 50 and older is soon to experience this first time as our parents age and we need to remember that we all become seniors needing options.

    The key is to have options and a plan in place as we age. Westport is trying to provide options for seniors. Our senior community created this town that we all enjoy. When we need a different living situation, we are going to want this housing option to exist!

    I support Senior Housing in Westport. I encourage P&Z to pass the change to the text amendment. I have attended meetings and have seen and heard the statistics that support the income percentages. They mimic the economic make-up of our senior population- AS THEY SHOULD. The need for housing is income blind.

  15. Nathalie Fonteyne Gavrilovic

    I have been a resident of Westport for 10 years and I love the town. I am involved in two civic organizations with the town, the Westport Young Woman’s League (WYWL) and the Westport Garden Club. As the current president of the WYWL, I would like to share with you that since I joined the league, there is not been a year that I have not observed some of our members struggling with the logistics of helping one or both aging parents. It is a well-documented fact that because our parents are living longer, my generation of 30 and 40, even 50 year old women are sandwiched, pressed and stressed, taking care for their children, while taking care of their aging parents. There is not been a year when one of our members is not logging many miles driving outside of Westport to care for their aging parents, some driving as far as Long Island, then rushing back to meet the school bus, putting a strain on their family life and adding a significant financial burden to their budget. As a member of the Garden club, I also have observed every year that there are (older) members of the club who move away from Westport. Clearly there is a need, and that need will not be met if we do nothing. Regrettably both my parents have passed, so the first comment no longer applies to me but I hope I can look forward to staying in the town I have come to call home for as a long as practical. This Senior housing facility would allow for that. I am in favor of this amendment.

  16. There is a great need for Senior Housing, Assisted Living and Memory Care facilities in town and we have before us a well planned project ready to go. Going back and starting anew will delay it for several years when the need is so urgently.
    We tried a 60% low income project but it did not have sufficient political support and it delayed us for 2 years. It does not make sense to go back and try it again.
    There is still lots of space left on the property we can use, be it for low cost senior housing or selling off property.
    It has take a lot of work to get to where we are today. There is a great need for it, Seniors want it and it brings revenue to the town.
    If we can’t agree what to do with the property, we get no revenue at all.
    Don’t blow it!

  17. You can see a petition signed by many Westport residents, most of whom participate at the Westport Center for Senior Activities (WCSA), urging the Planning & Zoning Commission to approve Text Amendment #677. The petition was hand-delivered to the commission at their public hearing on September 4, 2014 by Susan Pfister, Director of the WCSA. See http://www.westportct.gov/seniorcenter

  18. There are many many seniors here whose income is less than $20,000 a year. I am one of them. Are we to be excluded by the fact that even the cheapest apartments at the Baron’s will be totally unaffordable? Let’s get real here with the rental figures and tough with the developers.

  19. dorvan manus e:: dorvanmanus179@live.com

  20. Tom Feeley’s comments about subsidizing taxes for seniors ( see in above group of comments) is the best idea I’ve heard in a long time. For those of us who want to remain in our present homes but who , if we live long enough, will not have enough money to pay the ever rising taxes, tax relief for seniors would be one way we could remain where we live, Tom, is there a way you could get this idea on a town docket?

    • If you want lower taxes then you need to vote for a different Goverrnor. Time to vote Dan Malloy OUT of office. He raised raxes on everyone, was willing to give $150 million of YOUR money to move a hedge fund deom Westport to his home town of Stamford. CT job growth is one of the worst in the US, we have BILLIONS in unfunded liabilities that you will be taxed eventually to pay, we are one of the worst states in the US for extra Nokia growth and more people want to move out.

      Whatever savings you might think of getting will be taken away by the state unless change occurs. You will be paying lots.

    • Plenty of RTMers and elected officials read 06880 cause Dan’s THE MAN.
      If they like the idea, they will put it on somebody’s docket. Helen Garten is a financial guru; she might have an opinion.