The Westport Board of Finance voted unanimously to use $150,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to help jumpstart a potential affordable housing development at 900 Post Road East.
The funds will go toward “predevelopment work,” such as drainage and environmental studies and surveys on the site, which is currently owned by the state’s Department of Transportation.
About 2 acres of the site would be used to create about 20 units of affordable housing. It’s an “unique situation,” according to Elaine Daignault, the town’s director of human services.
“We have a viable project that offers a big opportunity,” she said.
The $150,000 would go toward predevelopment work that would speed up the process for whomever the future developer of the project is, because they would have the baseline information about the site—any wetlands issues, environmental impacts that need to be addressed, etc.
The town is partnering with the state on this, as the Department of Transportation would transfer the piece of land to the Department of Housing. The Department of Housing would then put out a request for proposals for a developer to build the approximately 20 units on the site.
First Selectwoman Jen Tooker called the project “a priority” for her administration.
“We think it is an excellent location—diverse housing on this property is an excellent possibility, we worked long and hard to get this opportunity,” she said. “Spending $150,000 now will accelerate the process. We spent a lot of time and energy on this project—we need to know is this the right thing or is there somewhere else we need to think about?”
Danielle Dobin, chair of the town’s Planning and Zoning board, said that another of benefit of this project is that it would help the town move toward addressing its affordable housing shortage and allow them to have control over it, so there wouldn’t be surprises or a project that didn’t “fit” the site.
“The point of taking control of our zoning, we preclude oversized buildings and buildings not the right fit for residential neighborhoods,” she said.
This could be a chance to “show a different way” for some of the wealthier towns in Fairfield County to provide affordable housing options, Dobin said.
Both members of the Board of Finance and a member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting who spoke said they liked that this was a “proactive” project instead of being reactive and trying to fight off developers coming in and pursuing larger projects.
“I’m standing before you to say that I think we should have four or five of these in the works,” said Lou Mall, RTM member from District 2. “This is a wonderful idea and wonderful opportunity to address affordable housing in this town.”