Adults with special needs have found a home in the historic town-owned building at 136 Riverside Ave. The house has been renovated into five apartments, with rents at state-mandated affordable rates as part of the approval for the Mill Westport condominium complex on Richmondville Avenue. / Photo by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Affordable housing for adults with special needs — a project that evolved over several years for a town-owned, 19th-Century building at 136 Riverside Ave. — is ready for occupancy.

The Board of Selectwomen recently approved an affordability plan and 40-year deed restriction for the property, which now houses five apartments to be leased at affordable rates.

The town-owned house, adjacent to Saugatuck Elementary School and PAL field house, has been leased to Abilis, a nonprofit organization in Greenwich that supports individuals with special needs. 

Three of the apartments in the house will be deed restricted for disabled individuals earning 60 percent or less of the state median income, and two will be for people earning 40 percent or less of the state median income, according to Assistant Town Attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug.

The affordable rental units were developed under an agreement between the town and developers of the Mill Westport condominium complex at 41 Richmondville Ave. to meet requirements set by the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law. When the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the Richmondville Avenue project in 2020, the developer agreed to fulfill the requirement that 20 percent of the units be designated “affordable” in compliance with state income guidelines, but at an off-site location. Prices for units at the converted mill currently start at about $1.5 million and rise to nearly $3.5 million, according to its website.

The town-owned building at 136 Riverside Ave., previously owned by the Board of Education, was was selected as the location for those off-site units under the pact with the Richmondville developers, Flug told the selectwomen at their Dec. 13 meeting.

The developers made an upfront payment of $500,000 for the entire 49-year lease, plus $49 or $1 annually, on the Riverside Avenue house as required by the town. The developer also paid for renovations to convert the structure into five independent living units, according to Flug. There is also a fund to pay for maintenance, which is the responsibility of Abilis, she said, under the group’s management contract.

“The town will also hope to get 11 points toward an affordable housing moratorium“— which would exempt it from the 8-30g law — with the deed-restricted designation of the Riverside apartments as affordable, Flug said.

In addition to the P&Z’s approval of the plan, the project also has been approved by the Board of Finance, Flug said.

Completion of the project was applauded by Selectwoman Candice Savin, who said that she was a Board of Education member when the Riverside Avenue property, which had been used as an education curriculum center, was relinquished by the Board of Education.

Although several options for the property were considered, including an affordable housing proposal by David Waldman, developer of Sconset Square and Bedford Square, ownership was transferred to the town.

“It’s very exciting … This is a good example of teamwork of multiple town boards and the private sector,” Savin said.

Selectwoman Andrea Moore, who was a member of the Board of Finance when several different options for the property were considered, also was pleased to see the property used for adults with special needs.

“I’m thrilled to see that this is about to open and to serve this community,” she said.

Elaine Daignault, director of the town’s Department of Human Services, said after the meeting, “It is super exciting to provide this kind of resource … and I’m very happy to see that we’re able to accommodate this inclusionary housing on town-owned property.”

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.