Old Town Hall: Selectmen approve tax abatement, payment schedule
Last week Darien’s Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a tax abatement and payment schedule for Old Town Hall Homes, a senior affordable housing complex located at 719 Post Road. A major redevelopment of the complex proposed by the Darien Housing Authority and their developer partner the JHM Group has already been approved and the tax agreement would actually increase the development’s net payments to the town.
The DHA currently does not pay any real estate taxes on the existing 30-unit OTHH complex, which is spread over six buildings. Under the agreement, the town would receive about $550,000 over a period of 40-years, starting with a payment of $9,075 and increasing 2% annually. Additionally, the town will no longer cover sewer expenses for the development. Payment is expected to begin once construction is complete, with the schedule listing the first payment in February 2020.
Originally constructed in 1988, Old Town Hall Homes has been deemed obsolete; DHA representatives have repeatedly stated that the development is no longer fit for senior residents and suffers from “significant design flaws.” The campus contains outdoor stairways and mail facilities that can be challenging for the elder tenants and some units are less than 500 square feet. The proposed development would replace OTHH with a single three-story building with indoor laundry and community facilities, increasing the overall number of units to 55. All of those units would be affordable based on area median income.
“Anything we can do for our seniors, especially affordable housing, is a win-win,” Selectman Susan Marks said during the meeting. “The fact that we can increase the [number of] units is huge and we’ll be getting money for the sewer that we are not getting today, as well as the taxes.”
Site plans for the project were approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission were approved last year and the DHA and JHM Group have been working to secure the funding needed to set construction in motion. The total development cost for the project is $22 million, with more than half of the funding coming from private-sector equity and debt. State financing is expected to add approximately $8 million to the redevelopment while just over a $1 million will come from the DHA and the town’s affordable housing trust fund.
“We are definitely keeping an eye on where money is being spent and when it comes in,” DHA Chairman Jan Raymond said. “And anytime there is a real issue the housing authority does a good job of understanding what is going… we have a real interest in representing the town.”
Developer John McClutchy said the tax abatement will help the benefit the project as the DHA applies for state funding. He told the Board of Selectmen that state officials usually look for towns to make a investment in affordable developments, and the tax abatement represents a financial commitment. Because the DHA owns already owns the site, the town also avoided the acquisition costs that often come along with affordable projects.
A Darien resident, McClutchy said that he and his son Todd, who is also working with the development team, have a personal connection to the town and the development itself.
“We have lived in town for 40 years, it’s a place where I brought up my children and the place where Todd will bring up his kids, so it’s very important to us that we do this right, because it’s not just our business it’s our neighborhood,” he said during the meeting last week.
The tax abatement will still need to earn approval from the Representative Town Meeting in order to go into effect, and the development team expects to submit their applications for state funding ahead of a late June deadline. Before construction, the DHA will also need to relocate the existing senior tenants into temporary housing for the duration of the project. Construction is expected to take approximately 18 months once underway.
“I’ll be looking forward to it,” Selectman Marc Thorne told the development team. “It’s obvious the current situation is really not adequate and you’ve worked hard with the neighbors to address their concerns and it’s going to be a real benefit to our community.”