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Affluent Connecticut Town at Odds With Affordable Housing Proposal

Feb 20, 2015

One of the most exclusive and expensive residential communities in the Northeast is facing a challenge over the proposed construction of a high-rise multifamily complex.

Westport, Conn., is now facing the possibility of a five-story, 200-unit housing complex on the site of the Westport Inn, a two-story hotel that has been a fixture of the town for years. Thirty percent of the units in the new complex would be set aside for affordable housing, which is in short supply in Westport—the project’s developer, 1595 Post Equities LLC, stated that the town’s affordable housing level is only 2.75 percent. In 2011, Forbes Magazine ranked Westport as the nation’s 10th most affluent neighborhood, with a median household income of $147,391.

The Westport News reports that the proposal for the new multifamily complex was initially filed with local zoning officials, only to be withdrawn and then filed under Connecticut’s 8-30g statute, which allows a developer to exceed local zoning regulations if a municipality’s affordable housing inventory was less than 10 percent of all housing units. This stature also places a burden of responsibility on local zoning officials to justify a rejection of this type of project.

The proposed complex is being fought by a group called Westport United, which has an online petition that has attracted 1,400 supporters.

"Westport United is not against affordable housing or responsible development—however this project would overwhelm the community and put incredible pressure on schools, traffic, emergency response, and life safety; resulting in significant public health and safety concerns," said the group on its petition site.

But Sheldon Stein, who bought the Westport Inn site in October 2007 and had initially pledged to keep the hotel operational, insisted that the project made economic sense.

"The size is bigger, but the traffic and use are comparable with what's there - there would not be a significant difference," Stein said. "Many people have called me and think this is a good idea because there is a tremendous demand for housing in town, especially for teachers and firefighters and seniors—who are downsizing and want to stay in town."

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