Eminent Domain Removed From Prop. In Study Area, Westfield Leader, 1/25, page 1
Rumored Morale Problems Plague the Cranford Municipal Building
Within the last 6 months a number of Cranford employees have quit. A few examples:
Downtown Business & Economic Development Director
Police Chief
Assistant Zoning Officer
Township Clerk
Tax Collector


November 13, 2005, New York Times


REGIONAL planning meetings can be a snore. That is until they sound an alarm, and wake up the neighborhood.

That is what happened on Nov. 2, when the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley held a luncheon meeting to talk about the explosion of age-restricted housing in its member communities. To towns dependent on property taxes to pay bills, age-restricted housing had pretty much looked as if it was created by a property-tax Einstein. No children are allowed, meaning there would be no demand for new schools. Combine that with higher revenues from taxes, and the money would be coming in, but not going out.

Do not be so sure, the planners from the council of governments told those attending. They handed out a brief questionnaire to the town planners. "Does your town have sufficient senior services? Would your town build this if it weren't age-restricted? What could these units be used for after the baby boomers are gone?" Mary Barton, the town planner in Watertown, where a proposal for a 350-unit age-restricted development was being considered along with zoning changes to accommodate it, did not have to think long to get her answers. No, no and not sure, she said. "It seems this is the wave of the future of development," she said. "The thing that concerns me is: What happens when there's no longer a call for this type of housing?" Town planners and regional planners have recently been raising issues like this about age-restricted developments being built or proposed in towns throughout the state. The issues range from concerns that a glut of the units will create empty neighborhoods 30 to 40 years down the road when baby boomers have moved on or died, to worries about a greater demand for services as residents age, to how to deal with a lack of zoning regulations regarding the proposals, to concerns that turning towns into havens for the elderly will irrevocably change their character.

Such developments might not be a worry but for their sheer numbers in the state. Although there have been a crush of proposals in the past few years, the first so-called active-adult communities, which differ from nursing homes and retirement housing in that they do not generally provide health services and that they focus on activities and social events, were being built in the 1960's.

One of the state's oldest and largest age-restricted developments, Heritage Village, was built in Southbury in the late 1960's. But Heritage Village has what most newer developments are not offering now: its own ambulance service and its own security officers. With 2,580 units and almost 4,000 residents on 1,000 acres, Heritage Village is bigger than some Connecticut towns.

More than 7,000 units of housing ranging from apartment-style condominiums to single-family homes are for sale in about 150 new neighborhoods, targeted at buyers 55 and older, according to 55-Plus LLC, a Massachusetts-based marketing firm that has surveyed dozens of towns in Connecticut. That does not take into account the dozens of proposals that are before zoning boards, or the age-restricted housing that already has been built. "The way these things are popping up all over the place, it's eventually going to glut the market," said Daniel Tuba, Monroe town planner and the immediate past president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Planning Association, which is a professional organization for town planners.

"Right now, there's a lot of anti-residential development sentiment in Connecticut, and developers have latched onto this active-adult community idea as a way to try to convince a community that something is worth approving," Mr. Tuba continued. "I have to laugh, because they use the term active adults, and it kind of draws attention to the whole issue. The active-adult community becomes the passive-adult community 20 years from now. That community will demand a lot of services in terms of public safety, ambulance service, fire service.

"And when the baby-boomer wave goes through, you're going to see a dramatic drop-off in that age group," Mr. Tuba added. "All of a sudden these communities are going to say, 'We can't fill our units, and we have no alternative but to open them up and sell them to whomever.' And what has been billed as a positive tax flow and a positive for the community will start to reverse. This has not been a well-thought-out concept. It's one of these hot ideas that everybody is hooking their stars to and trying to follow."

Before the beginning of this year, the town of Berlin, population 18,215 from the 2000 census, had no age-restricted housing, said Hellyn Riggins, Berlin's director of development services. Between Jan. 1 and May 19, it approved 860 units. Then it declared a moratorium on construction of such housing until its planning department could update its zoning regulations.

"The town needed time to sit back and say, Oh! We've just been hit with all age-restricted units," Ms. Riggins said. "Is it just good for us right now? What's going to happen 20 years from now, when we have all these units and maybe the demand isn't there? It's also a worry, that they could become regular condos, that the owners might come back to us and request regular zoning. What are the demographics of the 55 and older community? Will it drop sharply after 20 years? When do you saturate the market?"

Because age-restricted housing is relatively new to Connecticut, many of these questions are unanswered. Many developments require zoning changes to be built, and in several towns, developers of age-restricted are the ones writing them.
In New Milford and East Lyme, for example, Karl Frey, a Stamford developer whose firm, Vespera, proposed Dunham Farm, a 508-unit active-adult housing project, created the town's zoning amendments. Instead of 508 units on 600 acres, the units will be built on about 60 acres, with 100 acres for open space. But the proposal ran into significant community opposition in 2004, with opponents saying it did not take sufficient account of conservation and environmental issues. Construction has not yet begun.

"It's a true smart-growth community," Mr. Frey said. "We have a mix of small-lot single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums. But we were negligent in preparing the community for this, and we made a mistake assuming that folks understood what we were trying to do. Conservation comes first in everything we do."
Mr. Frey scoffed at the idea that the market for age-restricted communities would dissolve in the future.

"If you were 40 in 1850, you were an old guy," he said. "If you made it to retirement in 1950, and got another couple of good years before you dropped dead of a heart attack, you were doing well. Now life expectancy has risen dramatically. There's no way we will end up with an overabundance of 55 and older housing." Covenants within the bylaws of the developments also can stipulate permanent restrictions, for example, making the community perpetually responsible for trash pickup, or clearing its own roads.

"The town can't impose that upon the developer, but if the developers are smart, they can put it to the zoning board that they will put those restrictions in their bylaws as a condition of approval," Mr. Frey said. "As long as you spell up front that the community is responsible for its own trash pickup, etc., those costs should never rise with inflation. So it's not the kind of revolt the town should ever worry about, if they think up front about ways to accommodate the extraordinary demand for 55 and older housing in a new way."

Town planners are not so sure. No matter what covenants say, they worry that as maintenance fees rise and fixed incomes stay fixed, homeowners will approach the towns to pick up some costs like snow and trash removal. For example, services for seniors are already strained in East Windsor and South Windsor, where hundreds of age-restricted housing units were built in the past decade. Both towns have established caps on the number of age-restricted units allowed, although South Windsor has raised its cap twice.

"These active-adult residents are demanding more senior services as the years go by," said Laurie Whitten, vice president of the Connecticut Association of Zoning Enforcement Officials and director of planning and development in East Windsor, which went from 33 age-restricted proposals in 2005 to 700 in 2005, before the town enacted a building moratorium on Sept. 16. "Our senior services have increased drastically because of all the active adults in town."

Marcia Banach, South Windsor's director of planning, said the town's senior center has become overburdened from the number of 55-and-older residents who have moved into the new developments.

"We've also had more frequent medical calls to the complexes," she said. "Everyone thinks they're really great because there will be no impact on services, but we're seeing more impact."

Despite naysayers, Heritage Village integrated well into Southbury, said DeLoris Curtis, the town's planning administrator. A spokeswoman for the community, Leola Lee, said that when the village first went up, some critics said it would become a slum soon enough.

"It is far from that," Ms. Lee said. "It is one of the most beautiful places to live, and our maintenance fees are far from high. That's why people are moving here in such large numbers now. It's nothing like what you have to pay in Westchester."
But concerns have arisen over the years. Housing prices there have not kept up with comparable homes in Southbury, said Virginia Mason of the Council of Governments in Naugatuck. Heritage Village also made up 31 percent of all the housing units in Southbury in 2004, creating a huge voting bloc of 55-and-older residents. Some years ago, before residential development increased in Southbury, the voting bloc at Heritage Village was greater than any other in Southbury, Mrs. Curtis said. The construction of age-restricted communities has been prohibited in Southbury since the 1980's. "We don't want the balance of the population to tip," Mrs. Curtis said.
Such large developments have a slim chance of being approved nowadays. But hundreds of small ones in a small state will make the same kind of dent, said Samuel Gold, a planner with the Council of Governments in Naugatuck.

"This isn't planning," he said. "This is land use as fiscal remedy. Connecticut towns are chasing after active-adult housing as a cash cow. Developers are selling this to people in their late 50's who aren't old yet, and they don't have elderly needs yet. When they're in their 70's and 80's, the towns will be ill-equipped to provide services. And typically older people vote a lot more consistently than younger people, and you may have a population that has no direct connection to the schools and will vote that way. These towns are willfully become more geriatric. They're subscribing to a geriatric future."