Matthew Mandell.
Representative Town Meeting member Matthew Mandell

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — Three committees of the Representative Town Meeting voted Tuesday to recommend the full body set the town’s new “inclusionary housing fee” at the rate suggested in December by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The Finance, Planning and Zoning, and Health and Human Services committees met online to discuss the new 0.5 percent fee — $5 for every $1,000 spent on construction costs for zoning permits.

The RTM’s Ordinance Committee will discuss the measure at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday online.

The fee must be approved by the full RTM, which will take the matter up at its next meeting, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 in the Town Hall auditorium. It also will be streamed live on westportct.gov.

Seth Braunstein.
Seth Braunstein

RTM members Seth Braunstein, District 6, and Matthew Mandell, District 1, sponsored creation of the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will derive its primary source of revenue from inclusionary zoning fees. It is expected to raise about $1 million a year for affordable housing initiatives.

If the fee is approved, it could kick in by Feb. 26, Mandell said Tuesday, in time for some large-scale projects. The money collected will go into the trust fund, which was established in October.

The plan is enabled by state legislation. Several neighboring communities already have such funds. Fairfield collects the same fee as proposed by Westport’s P&Z. New Canaan’s fee is double that.

The Board of Selectwomen last week accepted a $10,000 anonymous donation to the fund. Grants also could be accepted.

Mandell said such contributions couldn’t be counted on.

“We can sit around and we can all talk about how nice it is to have a fund, but unless we can actually put money into that fund we’re going to be no closer to accomplishing an improvement in the affordable housing standards we have in town,” Braunstein noted.

Committee members clearly supported the fee, though there were questions.

Michael Calise, a P&Z Commission member, attended Tuesday’s meeting and was asked about concerns he had expressed when his commission discussed the matter.

“If you’re building a home for a million dollars, you’ve got to pay $9,000 for your zoning permit, this will increase it to $14,000,” Calise said. “It’s just, to me, not fair.”

He said the town collects some $2 million a year in property conveyance fees for the state of Connecticut.

Jimmy Izzo.
Jimmy Izzo

“Why don’t we go to the state of Connecticut and say we want some of that money?” he said. “Because we get none of it.

Calise said he’s talked to some residents about the new fee. “Some of them have used the word ‘immoral,’ ” he said.

Jimmy Izzo, an RTM member from District 3 who is not on any of the committees that voted Tuesday, said he didn’t like the fee, but that he would save most of his comments for the full RTM meeting, when the public would be attending.

“I think this is kind of a sneak attack on the public of Westport,” he said. “Because they don’t know about this fee, and yet we’re charging it like nobody cares.”

He called the trust a “feel-good fund” that should be funded voluntarily.

“Until we change the rules at the state level, all these little gimmicks we’re doing, I don’t see doing much,” Izzo said.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.