Wilton Road Developer: We’ll Move. If…

Many Westporters wondered why Garden Homes Management — a Stamford firm without any prior connection here — proposed building a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex on 1.16 acres of land.

Land, in fact, that could not be a less appropriate spot: wedged between a tidal marsh and the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North light — one of the most heavily trafficked, backed-up intersections in town.

Turns out that’s not the only place they’re looking.

Or all they want.

In a letter to First Selectman Jim Marpe dated January 25 — but not received at Town Hall until February 1 — Garden Homes president Richard K. Freedman offers to “relocate” the project away from 122 Wilton Road.

Garden Homes Management CorporationFreedman says his offer is in response to Westport’s concerns that the tiny parcel is not the place for the 15 affordable housing units Garden Homes will include in the project.

Freedman says there is “unequivocally” no other site in Westport economically viable for affordable housing.

However, he writes, “the answer changes if the town provides a subsidy.”

Freedman would like Westport to buy the property — then pay his company $1.5 to $2 million to cover Garden Homes’ land, engineering and legal costs. And its profit.

Then, he continues, the town can buy the property. And also pay for “all expenses to re-design the project for the same 48 units on a new site.”

“In the spirit of working constructively,” Freedman offers 4 suggestions:

  1.  “793 Post Road E., 2.4 acres — listed for $3,100,000, previously under contract, now available.” This is the 2-story residential-looking commercial building next to Westport Wash & Wax, at the foot of Long Lots Road. Most recently, it housed a stationery store.
  2. “1480 Post Road E., 1.63 acres — listed for $4,295,000, confirmed to be available.” This is the Rogers Septic Tank property, next to the Exxon gas station and across from the old Blockbuster.
  3. “447 Riverside  Ave., 1.0 acres — listed for $1,900,000, confirmed to be available, an ideal location for transit-oriented development.” This is the site of a 4-bedroom, 1,685-square foot house. The riverfront property includes a dock.
  4. “The former Jaeger property, 4+ acres, town-owned.” Freedman says there was an 8-30g (affordable housing) proposal for 67 units here in 2001; the town bought it for $4.2 million. It was used to expand the adjacent Long Lots School parking lot. The Community Garden also shares the site.

“My offer is open-ended,” Freedman’s letter concludes. “You may reply at your leisure, or not at all. I also welcome suggestions for other sites.

“In the meantime, my efforts to build affordable housing at 122 Wilton Road will continue as planned.”

One of the sites Garden Homes says is available for apartments -- including affordable housing -- is 793 Post Road East. Located between New Country Toyota (left on map above) and the former Bertucci's (right), the site is zoned partially for business, partially for residence.

One of the sites Garden Homes says is available for apartments — including affordable housing — is 793 Post Road East. Located between New Country Toyota (left on map above) and the former Bertucci’s (center), the site is zoned part business, part residential. (Photo/Loopnet.com)

Another property -- 447 Riverside Avenue -- is on the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Zillow.com)

Another property — 447 Riverside Avenue — is on the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Zillow.com)

 

 

72 responses to “Wilton Road Developer: We’ll Move. If…

  1. Dear Dan,
    I admit to coming to this discussion of multi-family development a little on the late side, but I have built involved in many housing projects over the years and have a few thoughts.

    First, I have never been successful as a developer, builder, or landlord bullying the town within which I was trying to work. Such an approach seems completely bizarre and would make me very wary of dealing with these people.

    Second, in the various projects we have completed in Conn., N.Y., Md., Va., DC, and Europe the densities have rarely been those proposed for Westport. Westport is a suburban, bucolic primarily single family community and high-density 4-6 story buildings are simply misplaced on any basis.

    I realise there may be pressure from State laws pushing the town to provide affordable housing, but that should be the impetus to take action locally and not be pushed around by someone who doesn’t care about the long-term nature of Westport.

  2. Isn’t Mr. Freedman a sport!

  3. Mary ruggiero

    Publishing this letter with the developer’s “offer” should encourage everyone to attend the hearings on this proposed development. It makes me want to scrutinize the definition of extortion.

  4. Lily Bloomingdale

    Did this guy go to Trump University? He’s got some chutzpah!

  5. Bobbie Herman

    “Working constructively?” Sounds like extortion to me.

  6. States define the legal term of “extortion” differently but most consider it “the gaining of property or money by almost any kind of force, or threat of 1) violence, 2) property damage, 3) harm to reputation, or 4) unfavorable government action.” While morally and ethically questionable, I’m not sure it would really qualify as extortion.

  7. What a crock.

  8. Bart Shuldman

    Keeping voting in the same party to lead the state. If we ever get to the point of really being upset then maybe Westport will and can control what happens to us

    Legal extortion with the approval and consent of Governor Malloy and his party.

    GE leaving. Taxe increases on everyone the last several years. Cuts to hospitals (just ask them how bad it is). And stuff like this. West porters just look at who voted to approve all this.

    Enough is enough (thanks Bern)

    • Deb Rosenfeld

      Bristol Myers is taking 200 jobs out of Wallingford in 2016, too, and placing them in Massachusetts. Seems like a trend.

      • Bart Shuldman

        Deb-a recent email I sent out. The CT financial situation is bad and getting worse. This is why companies are leaving–business taxes and personal taxes are going up:

        I write to you with an update to the financial issues in Connecticut and unfortunately to let you know things are getting worse. What drew my attention was the news about GE moving to Massachusetts and then Moody’s Investors Service, a major Wall Street rating agency, issuing a ‘credit negative’ statement saying the GE move could hurt Connecticut’s financial standing.

        In December 2015, Governor Malloy with the support from only the Democratic legislation in Connecticut approved and implemented budget cuts as the state was facing a significant budget deficit. One reason there was no bipartisan support was the disappointing decision by the Governor and the leadership in Hartford regarding their refusal to address the crippling state employee costs that are affecting the financial health of Connecticut.

        Now, just one month (January 2016) after the budget cuts were made and no change enacted to state employee costs, the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis published their latest financial projection which shows another ‘new’ budget deficit of $72.2 million. The main culprit of this shortfall is the fact that personal state income tax revenues have continued to decline. Projected personal state income tax revenue have been reduced an additional $75 million, in just one month.

        In addition, the State Treasurer is now warning that debt service costs are exceeding budget levels this year and next. Making this issue more concerning is Governor Malloy and the majority leadership in Hartford using ‘bond premiums’ to help pay the state’s debt. Basically, we are borrowing more money to pay the state’s debt. From what I have read, $160 million in bonded debt payments are made using borrowed money.

        The latest budget decisions did not address the growing need for the state to fix the unfunded state pension plans. Governor Malloy and the majority leadership in Hartford did nothing in the current budget to change how pension plans are calculated, nothing to reduce or change the benefits or eliminate state employee’s use of overtime for pension calculations.

        This fiscal year (2015 to 2016), state employee overtime costs are projected to exceed $240 million which will increase the state’s liability for future pension payments.

        Connecticut’s unfunded pension plans are in desperate shape. The plans are underfunded by over 50% (2nd worse in the U.S. behind Illinois) and the state uses an unrealistic 8% ‘earnings’ rate. I recently read an analysis of the state’s pension plan which showed the state earning on average 5.5% a year over the last 15 years. Connecticut is falling behind every day on the amount of money that is needed to pay the pensions when due.

        Recently, there has been talk by both Governor Malloy and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo as to what the state should do to shore up the pension plan. Comptroller Lembo has proposed a plan that would increase the state’s pension funding to $2.3 billion a year, $800 million more than the state spends today. While an argument could be made for the state to have to put more than $2.3 billion a year into the pension plans, the Comptroller’s raises a serious question.

        As I have written in a previous email, Connecticut is facing a budget deficit of over $500 million in the upcoming 2016-2017 fiscal year, despite the recent spending cuts. If the state increases the pension cost to $2.3 billion a year ($800 million more) based on Comptroller Lembo’s plan, then the approaching next fiscal year budget deficit starting July 2016 will increase to $1.3 billion. This raises the question—where will that money come from? The state’s rainy day fund only has $406 million left.

        Since Governor Malloy and the majority leadership in Hartford continue to run a deficit and will need to cut more from the budget this fiscal year, will it be possible to cut an additional $1.3 billion in the coming 2016-2017 fiscal year?

        Or will state income, state sales and and/or Connecticut business taxes have to be increased more?

        Your friend and neighbor,

        Bart

  9. how about the Eno property up for sale?

  10. Joyce Barnhart

    What?! He doesn’t want “Baron’s South”?

  11. Michael Calise

    Yes even in bucolic Westport there are crooks in our midst!

  12. Sally Campbell Palmer

    Our representatives should take a copy of this letter to Hartford to show the legislature the kinds of distortions the terms of 8-30g can spawn.

  13. why would the town pay for design fees etc. What does the town have to gain from Garden’s proposal or is this a blackmail offer?

    Thomas Orofino

  14. 17!! That is the number of lawsuits filed by Garden Homes Management or against Garden Homes Management. Garden Management is suing New Milford P&Z, Oxford P&Z, Fairfield P&Z, Milford P&Z, and others.

    It appears they are a legal machine that finds ways to try and extort money from towns. Just look at what they are proposing to Westport.

    Thank you Hartford—this is really (NOT) driving affordable homes—instead it is allowing ugly developers like Garden Homes to try and make money off your inability to pass legislation that insures protection to towns.

    Westport–please take note. Please think about what is happening all around us. And please think about your vote–you cannot complain if you continue to support this nonsense. Rep Steinberg cannot vote against his party leaders in Hartford, and they do not care what is happening in Westport. We are the ‘fat cats’ they do not care about.

    Please, please think about it.

    • It would be nice if Rep. Steinberg and others in public office would comment. I know he reads 06880…at least a I hope he reads 06880. What say you….Rep. Steinberg?

      • Bobbie Herman

        I met Jonathan at the Chilifest yesterday, and we discussed it. He said that he’s been trying for five years to get the law changed to include dwellings built before 1990, but has had absolutely no luck.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Bobbi. Rep Stenberg agreed to support his leadership and vote two different times for the budget that raised taxes and he’ll drive GE out of CT. What did he get for Westport for his vote that went against most of his constituents? Please. What did he get in return for supporting a budget that is hurting hospitals and Westport losing over $600,000 in state payments PILOT? Please. What did we get in return for his vote? Nothing?

  15. Matthew Mandell

    The problem is that 8-30g is actually about business. It says, “hey developer you want to make a profit by busting the zones of a town, here you go, just give us 30% affordable and you can do what you want.” So in talking to some of these less than honorable types, they say hey I’m allowed, the state encourages it, so I am doing it, it’s just business.

    As to all these alternate sites, give me a break. There is no working with the town. If they had, they would have given the P&Z the proper time to review their plan. But no, all they wanted to do was go to court. It’s in the judge’s hands now. We’ll know the answer sometime later this year.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Matt. They don’t care. It’s a game–threaten the town, sue, and get paid off. Look at how many lawsuits are either against them or lawsuits they have filed.

      The state does not care. We are the ‘wealthy’ in Fairfield. Do you think they will care that we experience more traffic? Or have to pay more for a fire truck to handle the height issue. Hell no. As they like to say….its just a few less says on our yachts. And they did say that.

      You want to make change-then prove it. Hartford does not care about Westport and we have lost any influence. Face it.

    • Michael Calise

      Matt,
      Its less about business and more about Democrat control in Hartford. You can not switch the blame. A few decades ago when Connecticut was a Republican state local control was King! The governmental policies espoused by Democrats has changed Connecticut from the “Constitution State” to a sad state

      • Bart Shuldman

        Michael. The real issue is one party runs CT. So the leadership and the Governor have a bank check to spend and make laws without any push back or debate. In addition we face a Hartford versus Fairfield issue.

        Adding insult to injury is Steinberg voting for his party that does not care about us, versus Steinberg protecting Westport. He has refused to push back and instead votes for what they want. There is no possible way for his support of the budget given its devastating effect on Westport and the surrounding towns. And he has no influence as he has been their puppet.

        Unless Westporters decide to make their voices known, and then make change, this issue and others will continue. We have no one else to blame but ourselves.

        Matt Mandell can write whatever he wants but the problems will continue. And I could guess who he will support this November.

        It’s all very sad but almost comical if you think about it.

        • Matthew Mandell

          Bart, stop your foolish democrat v republican banter, it wastes all of our time. Come with me to the Capitol and speak to the powers that be, see first hand how it is with 8-30g.

          Please tell me how different is what Steinberg, Lavielle, Boucher, Marpe and yes, Mandell had to say in the hearings. D or R, same. So much the same that the developers on Wilton Rd quoted me twice as, Steinberg, Lavielle and Marpe in their attack against the Town and how we are against 8-30g. They used our defense of our town against us.

          Get a grip and realize it is all of us together, so stop trying to fracture us it doesn’t help.

          • Bart Shuldman

            Matt. Sorry. You are wrong. Having one party in control of Hartford, that does not care about Fairfield County, is not good for any of us. Matt-read what they say. Look at what they do.

            Of course it’s politics.

      • Matthew Mandell

        I am not switching blame. I was explaining how the developers see it. The law makes it legal to make money off of busting our zones. Blame is where it should be, on the state. The law is wrong and I have been to the state three times to argue the case. They roll their eyes and do nothing.

        The answer is a coordinated effort by all towns in Fairfield County. It just will take a person to organize the elected state legislators to stand up and do.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Matt-you might want to think about voting differently also. That helps to start change.

          As head of chamber of commerce do you think raising taxes helps businesses? Do you think driving GE out of the state helps local businesses?

  16. Tell him to “go pound sand.”

  17. Elaine Marino

    The property at 1480 Post Rd East was used for the manufacture of septic tanks. The new owner should expect to pay a sizable amount for soil remediation, etc. Would the Town be required to foot the bill or at least help to pay for remediation?

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      Soil remediation is a very complicated legal issue throughout different jurisdictions, countries, but must be dealt with. It was the first problem I thought of after reading this post. Good luck.

  18. Okay this is not a “Democrat or Republican Problem” it’s a flawed law that is OUR PROBLEM….It’s a loophole designed to form a noose hold on communities like Westport…it’s time for the state to amend this law and stop the abuse of these extortionists. In the meantime it wouldn’t hurt for our state representatives to give us a list of the names and party affiliation who voted this 8-30g into law and also the law firm responsible for this law…the music to this dance must come to a close

  19. “Towns can apply for a four-year moratorium from being subject to 8-30g if they can show affordable housing equivalency points equal to 2 percent of its housing stock, something for which the town of Ridgefield just qualified. Other towns that have earned this are Darien, Berlin and Trumbull.” Quoted from “Connecticut lawmakers fight affordable housing regulations” http://www.nhregister.com/article/NH/20150205/NEWS/150209696
    Has Westport looked into this?

  20. Mary ruggiero

    Please gather names, emails and tel nos of local reps. Publish the list for all nearby towns and folks will use it.

  21. Mary ruggiero

    One thing to remember is that this law is also the result of ideological thinking, however flawed the law may be. It was supposed to promote the building of affordable homes. As such, it is not going away, but it can and should be amended to make it less onerous and less advantageous to those business interests who use it purely for gain and not for the purpose it was meant.

  22. Heads I win; tails you lose.

  23. With all the banter, the most fun will still be seing this charletan opportunistic developer ,Freedman lose the lawsuit he is bound to institute in a vain attempt to ruin the Rt. 33 entrance to our town.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Daniel. I cannot think it’s fun watching Westport spend taxpayers money on lawyers to stop this.

  24. I can’t help but laugh at the proposals of “Garden Homes” — What a misnomer if there ever was one — And “Freedman” What a joke –“Freed” to extort , bully , blackmail– whatever you want to call it —“Freed” to act totally immorally –but obviously he has no morals and only cares about the money
    Jimmy I love ya –You too Mike — But hey everyone let’s band together here– contact everyone you know and especially every news and radio companies etc in the area to let “Dick” Freedman know that he is messing around in the wrong neighborhood– Come on Westport !!
    Martin J O’Grady

  25. Mary ruggiero

    As I commented before, if someone put together a list of legislator contacts for Westport and neighboring towns, we could presepare a united effort.

    • Mary, all our Reps. read this blog, and yet remain silent because they do not have the juice in Hartford. Freedman is all mobbed up with Malloy as they come out of that Stamford machine. None of our legislators will dare to take on this issue and finish with positive results. Someone said earlier in this post that Rep. Steinberg stated that he has tried but has received no traction. As I said earlier…it would be nice if he chimed in and used this forum to communicate with his constituents.

      • Bart Shuldman

        Jamie you nailed this. Rep Steinberg gave away his vote for the budget and then the December ‘revised’ budget and got nothing for it. He has no influence or ‘juice’. Matt said it-nobody listened nobody cared.

        His vote caused Westport to lose over $600,000 in PILOT payments and what did we get? Nothing. His vote caused taxes to rise and everyone in Westport to lose some of the real estate deduction off their taxes. What did we get? Nothing. His supoort is allowing CT to spend $1 BILLION on a new railroad from New Have. To Hartford to Springfield for 2,200 riders. What did Westporters get? Just ask the Metro North riders-NOTHING. Rep Steinberg voted in tax increase on business that drove GE to Massachussettes. What did we get? Lost jobs, lost revenues for the businesses that supported GE and a possible real estate market that could drop home prices. I could keep going.

        Rep Steinberg gave away his vote. He has no influence. That is why he is silent. What can he say.

        This is politics. And we are losing. Hartfords answer to our issues—‘so what’–it’s just a few less days on our yachts.

      • Yes, Westport reps read this blog…but this is a lot bigger than Westport..garden homes is involved in potential or in progress developments all over Fairfield county.

  26. Frank Costello

    Time to get to the real issue – money. The property is owned by Jacob & Levi Simha. They have an offer to purchase the land for $650,000. The land is appraised at $575,960. Town population is 26,390. The law clearly is on the side of the developer. If Westport citizens are against this proposal and want to preserve this property as open space, are we willing to each donate $280.00 to purchase the land and send this developer away from our town? Lets all put our money to good use and then donate the parcel to the Aspetuck Land Trust for safe keeping.

    • Good idea Frank! Count our household in for $560.00

    • Interesting thought but I would imagine not every Westporters is ready willing and/or able to come up with $280. Better to deal is for town to buy it and raise property tax mill rate accordingly to pay for it which would arguably more equitably distribute the economic burden of keeping the developers at bay. Either that or those that feel most strongly about this will need to come up with more. Maybe work of building a legal defense fund to pay litigation costs as well.

      Question is where does this stop? Seems like the town already went down this road with the Jaeger property. At some point, Westport is going to figure out what to do about the affordable housing issue…like figure out how to get more and where to put it.

    • Dick Lowenstein

      Any donation if paid directly to Aspectuck would be a charitable contribution. Or it could be paid to the Town of Westport; if the Board of Selectmen agreed to accept the donations as a fund to purchase the property, then it would qualify as a charitable donation.

      • Dick. Just be careful how money is raised and used. Just think of the headline…’Westport raises money to drive out affordable homes’ .

        The issue is the statute itself. The town could not raise enough money to play ‘whack a mole’. Developers will continue to propose buildings much larger than the town can handle.

  27. Frank Costello

    Thank you, Jamie.

  28. Frank Costello

    Several town residents signed a petition to stop the developer from pursuing the proposed plan. No need for any additional funding for legal costs – just put our money to the good use of our community – buy the property and donate the land to the Aspetuck Land Trust for stewardship. Why is this a difficult concept and proposal? Not all citizens will be able to contribute, but now is the time for all to consider how much am “I” willing to contribute to stop the aggressive actions of developers this law has enabled.

    • Exactly. I’d suggest a “fundme.com” or “Kickstarter.com” campaign and see who is willing to join in and what you can get.

  29. Looks like this parcel is the cheapest of the bunch garden homes cited…but this will keep happening unless the law is amended. There are still all those other cites…

    • It is the cheapest because the economics largely don’t work for a private developer to develop something like this on more expensive properties unless something really large is planned (like it was for the Westport Inn proposal). It’s why you see developers going after marginal properties like this. Will continue to happen until something is actually done by Westport to address the fundamental problem.

    • It’s also probably why they asked for a subsidy to relocate elsewhere.

  30. Still Rep. Steinberg and other Politicos remain absent from this conversation. You can be assured that this inaction on their part will be represented in the voting booth… and Rep. Steinberg….your lawn sign once sat prominently on my lawn!

  31. Additionally, Rep. Steinberg…you may want to smile in more of your photo opportunities….you alway seem like you just “sucked on a lemon” and your really not having a good time!

    • Jamie-thank you. It is not party politics. It is about voting for someone who will stand up and support Westport no matter what their party does. Rep Steinberg had many moments where he chose to vote against us.

      It’s not whose party they are in-it’s about who will defend our interested. Our needs. And who we can trust to not let us down.

      I can tell you Rep Steinberg let us all down. Happy to sit with everyone and show you. His recoded speaks loudly for Hartford and not for Westport.

  32. This property is fraught with problems for development…it has been on the market for years and years. While it may cost the town money to fight it, it is likely the town will win or garden will have to spend lots of money on a smaller development overlooking a swamp. Ecology will likely force them to give up facing a small profit margin. This is leverage, our and simple, to get the town to give them a better situation.

  33. Read today’s online WestportNow and the article on this housing project. Very interesting. Click on the letters that are attached to the article, lots to read and learn.

    Looks like Rep Steinberg might have really hurt our efforts. But please read and post your opinion. Does not look good for Westport based on his comments.

    Also, it appears town made an inquiry to buy the land from the developer. He is now throwing that back at Westport.