Sen. Kane Co-sponsors Bill to Create Senior Housing in Southbury [Waterbury Republican American]

January 21, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican American

SOUTHBURY — Two lawmakers have submitted a bill to have the state transfer 45 acres at Southbury Training School to the town for construction of affordable apartments for seniors.

Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill, R-Southbury, and Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, have co-sponsored the bill to help create the next phase of senior housing in Southbury.

Two nonprofit organizations, Southbury Elderly Housing and Pomperaug Senior Housing, oversaw construction of the 88-unit Grace Meadows complex at Roxbury and North Poverty roads in four phases beginning in 1984, but the apartments are full and the waiting list has 150 names.

There is no more land to build on at Grace Meadows, and board members have looked elsewhere to add apartments.

“(The waiting list) is staying about even,” said the Rev. Frederick McGee, president of the nonprofits. “We have to pare it down constantly, go through it to meet federal standards.”

O’Neill said he was approached two years ago by two members of the nonprofits about the training school site.

The land is on the southern side of the training school campus off Route 172. It is where the former Personnel Village is located.

“From all accounts … everyone agrees it is a good site for senior housing in Southbury,” O’Neill said.

He said the problem is that the training school continues to use areas of Personnel Village, where campus workers used to be housed. Critics are likely to argue the state could make money by selling the property to the town instead of giving it away, he said.

O’Neill has helped pry a few parcels from the training school over the years for use as land preserves, but this is the first time he has tried to get anything close to the center of the campus.

“This is going to be a little more difficult to arrange,” he said.

Members of the nonprofits brought their expansion plan to the Board of Selectmen in November, and got a favorable response from board members.

People have been waiting three or four years to get off the waiting list at Grace Meadows, which was funded with federal money.

Because of that, the nonprofits cannot restrict occupancy to Southbury residents; however, most residents either are from Southbury or a surrounding town, or have family in the area.

O’Neill said the bill will work its way to the Government Administration and Elections Committee for discussion. He said it will be incorporated into a larger conveyance bill, where transfers of state land to municipalities are considered.

After that, it will be up to House and Senate members to decide whether the transfer makes sense. Ultimately, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would have to sign the bill.

McGee said how much money the federal government provides will determine the number of apartments that can be built.

“It depends how much funding comes in,” he said. “There will be additional need as we go along.”

There is precedent for the state to convey land from Southbury Training School.

In 1998, former Gov. John G. Rowland signed a bill authorizing transfer of 40 acres off Spruce Brook Road to the Southbury Land Trust.

The trust pursued the property after trustees determined several threatened and endangered species of plants were growing among the rocks and steeply carved banks of Spruce Brook, which empties into the Pomperaug River.

State officials walked the property and realized the sloping terrain would make future development of the training school impractical. With assistance from trust members, O’Neill wrote a transfer resolution and submitted it as part of the bill Rowland signed.

Known as the Koons Preserve, the property was named for the late Walter and Harriet Koons, ardent supporters of the land trust.

O’Neill said he hopes he can have as much success with the Personnel Village property as he did acquiring the Spruce Brook Road site for the land trust.

“This is going to be a little more difficult to arrange because the land is still being used,” he said. “We have to wait and figure out a way to see how to make this work.”

Grace Meadows was named for Grace McCandless, a retired educator from New York who lived in Heritage Village. She and others conceived of an affordable place in town for seniors to live.

Groundbreaking for the first phase was in April 1984, and the first residents moved in 16 months later. The housing authority and town filed three expansion applications with the federal government, and all were approved.