Darien BOS terminates option to lease at 35 Leroy Ave.
The vote came four days after Republican First Selectman Dave Campbell announced his plans to abandon the option between the town and Mutual Housing Authority (MHA) last Thursday.
Monday night's vote passed 3-2, with Republican Selectmen Campbell, Jerry Nielsen and Jayme Stevenson voting for the termination and Democrats Callie Sullivan and David Bayne dissenting. Sullivan and Bayne are the only two selectmen who sat on the previous BOS.
The former administration selected MHA to develop the 35 Leroy Ave. property in 2009, at which point the town and the developer entered into the option to lease, which would have permitted MHA to construct up to 21 affordable housing units at the former library site. This project was referred to as the linchpin in the town's Affordable Housing Plan, a document approved by the previous BOS in August 2009.
"The First Selectman has made it clear in statements to the press that the decision to abandon building affordable housing at 35 Leroy has already been made. His mind, and the minds of his majority, will not be changed. So, I am not going to waste time on debating of the merits of that decision," Bayne said.
"I believe that affordable housing at 35 Leroy remains the best option for yielding the most the long-term benefit to the town from that site. When the current proposal was made to move the senior center to the Board of Ed Building and the Board of Ed to 35 Leroy, it was suggested that because Darien is on the cusp of obtaining a four-year moratorium from 8-30g, the pressure was off with respect to the town using 35 Leroy as affordable housing and that we could now consider other municipal uses for the property," Bayne said.
"I respectfully disagree with that proposition. While I won't dispute that Darien may well achieve its first four-year moratorium in the coming year, if that does occur, then the question becomes: What happens when that moratorium expires?"
Sullivan echoed those sentiments while sharing a list of five reasons she disagreed with terminating the option to lease. In addition to her concerns about long-term affordable housing planning, she also advocated postponing the vote until the BOS has had more time to review information about the property at 35 Leroy Ave.
"The RTM has not completed [its] study. Their facts and figures will surely shed yet more light on the use of this valuable property. We owe it to them to wait. They, like us, have been elected to do the people's business, and we must take into consideration the findings of their study group," she said.
The Planning, Zoning and Housing Committee created a subcommittee for a 35 Leroy Ave. study in January. According to subcommittee chairman Frank Adelman, its role is "to study the property and current building and evaluate possible options for use in light of the available facts."
The subcommittee will report its findings to the PZ&H Committee in order to assist the committee in making fully informed recommendations about the use of the property when it is called upon to do so, Adelman said.
The findings of the Facilities Study Task Force's second phase may also shed light on the financial aspects of the decision, Sullivan told the Board.
"I would ask that we postpone this vote until the RTM has completed its study; this Board has had an in-depth conversation about affordable housing and our town's long-term plan, and a basic 10-year cost schedule for the renovation and continued maintenance of 35 Leroy has been completed," she said.
Nielsen told the Board his vote to terminate the option to lease hinged on the fact that "there are more active uses [of the property] that can benefit the business of the town."
"I just have a real problem with a $4.2 million piece of property ... having a developer building only 21 units of affordable housing," Nielsen said.
Stevenson said she views the Town's Affordable Housing Plan as an "ever changing entity."
"Even from the time we took office on Nov. 3, new projects have come before the town, and are under construction. New ideas are before the town," she said. "I do not believe that 35 Leroy Ave. ... is by any means the `linchpin' to Darien's affordable housing needs."
Several members of the audience also shared their opinions about the resolution with the board, including former BOS member Barbara Thorne, who said she was "disappointed that this Board of Selectmen seems to be heading toward a decision that limits options."
"This is what I ask you to do now," she said to the Board. "Keep the option open regarding affordable housing at 35 Leroy. Wait until you get a real cost-benefit analysis of the other options under consideration for both 35 Leroy and Renshaw Road. Think creatively beyond the limited scope of the Facilities Study Task Force. Then make truly informed decisions that reflect present realities, but have as a foundation the strong bi-partisan cooperative work of the past."
Adelman told the Board he "would second [Thorne's] suggestions to you as you consider what to do tonight with your agenda."
In the end the partisan vote canceled the replacement of the option to lease with a final ground lease; it was also resolved to return the deposit provided by MHA.