The Ridgefield on Wednesday discussed a preliminary proposal from the Affordable Housing Committee to build a senior development on a nine acre parcel on Prospect Ridge where the town's is currently located, adjacent to Scalzo Field.
Dave Goldenberg, chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee, said his group identified the town-owned parcel as being suitable for senior affordable housing following discussions with the Parks & Recreation Department.
As Goldenberg explained, years ago the town acquired a parcel on Danbury Road, near the town's senior center, Founders Hall, and earmarked it for senior affordable housing. The committee then came up with a plan that called for a three story senior housing facility on the property, positioned so that "it was off in the woods — yet near Founder's Hall, the recreation center and Copps Hill," Goldenberg said. The plan never came to fruition.
"Since then we've spoken to many people in town, about where this affordable housing might go, including Park and Rec... and they said 'We have a better idea...' and it turns out they did," Goldenberg said.
As Goldenberg explained, the property on Prospect Ridge is ideally suited for affordable housing because its use is not restricted by the town and, furthermore, it was acquired using state funds, making the project fully eligible for state funding.
"This is an opportunity that, if we move on it now, we can take advantage of new state money [for affordable housing]," Goldenberg said, adding that development of the site, as well as construction of the units, would be at no cost to taxpayers. "The state has put $100 million into affordable housing... If we move on this now we can meet our affordable housing needs for 15 years or more."
The committee has not submitted any definitive plans for the development — for now it is just a concept. It is requesting that the board convey the parcel to the Housing Authority, so that it can get the ball rolling in terms of applying to the state for funding as well as getting the property tested and appraised.
Helping to pitch the concept to the Board of Selectmen, pro bono, was Harvey Edelstein, president of Real Estate Diagnostics Inc., a consultancy that assisted the town in developing The Meadows affordable housing complex on Prospect Ridge.
The selectmen, however, said they were going to need a more definitive vision for the project before making a decision whether to convey the property to the . That's partly because Goldenberg began his presentation characterizing the plan as being "senior affordable housing," but later added that the parcel could also be used to build additional general affordable housing in the future, in order to help the town meet under . (Note: The Town has on affordable housing which, if approved, would temporarily relinquish it from having the comply with the statute.)
Selectman Andrew Bodner said the board would need to know up-front whether the land would be used for senior affordable housing, general affordable housing, or a mix of both.
"I'm all for senior affordable housing on the site — but if we're going to develop a master plan for that area, we want to be sure what we're agreeing to," Bodner said. "We recognize the change in the demographics and the need for that housing, but to start talking affordable housing in general, I don't know... considering the community's position right now, and what we're being 'force fed,' I don't know how accepting people are going to be of that."
Selectwoman Di Masters said there is a "big difference" between general affordable housing and senior affordable housing in terms of the amount of traffic they generate and the impact they have on town services such as the public schools.
Goldenberg said with a list of 60 people waiting to get into the Ballard Green housing development, there's no question that there is a growing need for affordable senior housing in town.
"The need for affordable housing in Ridgefield has not decreased," Goldenberg said. "People say 'it's a down market so housing is more affordable,' which is true, but people's incomes are down as well. Second of all when the market begins to creep back up, prices will creep back up, and it will start to become less affordable again."
Citing recent US Census data, Goldenberg said about a quarter of homeowners in Ridgefield, and about half of renters, pay 35 percent or more of their income for housing.
"The threshold of affordability is when you are spending 30 percent or less of your income on housing," he explained. "So there is still a very real need for affordable housing in town. The housing wage in the Danbury region — in other words what you would need to earn per hour in order to pay the fair market rent on a two bedroom apartment — is $29.08 an hour. The minimum wage is $8.50."
Goldenberg said when towns plan their affordable housing they need to account for a range of needs. The greatest need in Ridgefield, he said, is for "moderate cost, 50 to 80 percent of median income, housing for seniors."
"I don't have to tell you about the demographic shift that's taking place — we're all aging," he said. "Ballard Green is great, but that represents a smaller, lower-cost offering — and it's important to offer choices. Many seniors need single floor housing where they can 'age in place.'"
Goldenberg added that if the town proceeds with the plan, the dog park would be relocated to a nearby parcel. The cost of relocating the dog park, he said, would be included in the project budget.
The Board of Selectmen will be holding a public hearing on a date to be announced so residents can learn more about the proposed project and provide feedback.
Goldenberg, however, said he didn't want to see the conveyance issue stall the project.
"While I don't want to be hasty about it, there is a sense of urgency, in that this [state] money will not be available after a certain period of time," he said, adding that other towns will be competing for grants. "[Gov. Dannel Malloy's] administration has committed itself to providing the funding now — so, it may not be feasible, if we drag it out."
"We can approach it with all the urgency in the world," Bodner said, "but from where I'm sitting — you come in here and say maybe it's senior affordable housing, maybe it's not — it's going to be 30 units or maybe it's going to be 90 units — we need some parameters."
[Editor's Note: The time stamp on this article has been changed for the purpose fo controlling its positioning on the home page of Ridgefield Patch. The article was first published at 6 a.m., Thursday, May 24.]