2017-04-06 / Front Page

Middletown Considers Senior Development Project

By Olga Enger

Facing an aging population, Middletown Council President Robert Sylvia is calling for a plan to develop affordable senior housing.

“We have discussed this issue for years. We made it a top priority in our comprehensive plan. But it just sits as words,” said Sylvia.

At the April 3 council meeting, he proposed that the town explore opportunities to transform a town-owned property into affordable senior apartments through a partnership with a private developer. The town would provide the property as the investment into a joint venture, eliminating the need to go out for bond, he said.

“As our elderly population grows, the rate of senior housing is not keeping pace,” Sylvia wrote in a one-page memo addressed to the council. “Our town is in need of affordable senior housing and to satisfy our needs and our commitment to our seniors. I ask that we look into the feasibility of partnering with a developer who will join us in this venture.”

No developers were named as part of the discussion.

Sylvia also suggested officials consider a new location for the the existing Middletown Senior Center, located on Green End Ave., which is not on the bus route.

“It’s not always the most convenient place to get to,” said Sylvia, adding decisions would not be made without heavy input from the senior community and public workshops.

In a 6-0 vote, councilors asked the town administrator to review options and return with a plan for a senior development. Council Vice Chairman Paul Rodrigues recused, citing his sister’s employment at the center.

“The population is decreasing and at the same time is increasing in age. It's a formula for disaster,” Sylvia warned.

By engaging with a private developer, he believes a senior housing project could create a “powerful investment opportunity” for the community.

“We could always have our hands in it, control it.

We could ensure it consistently stays affordable for our most needy of citizens,” said Sylvia.

He has floated the concept past Rep. Deborah Ruggiero and State Sen. Louis DiPalma, both of Middletown, who are supportive and are looking into state funds.

Town Administrator Shawn Brown asked Sylvia to widen the scope to explore ideas beyond town-owned properties. “If you let us run a little bit, we could come back with ideas and a plan,” said Brown.

However, Councilor Barbara VonVillas said she supported the concept because it provided a solution without a high price tag. “I like what Bob has put forward in his proposal, when I heard it was to going to be done in an economically feasible way. Let’s look at town-owned property first,” said VonVillas.

“We take a property that generates no revenue and bring revenue to the town,” said Sylvia.

Sylvia suggested using the school administration property on Oliphant Lane, which could serve as both housing and a new senior center. The ballfields could be developed into apartments and the current administration building could be repurposed into the new senior center, he said.

"[The property] is on a bus route, has food and clothing stores in close proximity and has current lower income residents in the area,” Sylvia wrote in the memo. He asked the town solicitor to review the town’s ownership status for the property.

“This property is not being utilized as a school facility and therefore, I believe that we could use this property for such a worthwhile purpose,” said the council president.

The two critical goals for senior citizens are affordable housing and transportation, said Middletown’s Senior Center Executive Director Arleen Kaull. “They want to remain in the community with their family and friends. In order to do that, we have to have affordable senior housing,” said Kaull.

She is currently working with town staff on a survey that will be distributed to Middletown seniors.

“There are so many seniors out there that aren't familiar with what we offer,” she said.

Last year, the council approved tax relief for low-income residents over the age of 65. Before then, the ordinance and income thresholds had not been modified since 1982.

The idea for a private-public partnership was well received by the council.

“I think it's great,” said first-term Councilor Dennis Turano. “Part of my platform when I was running for Town Council was, ‘Let's pay more attention to senior citizens. Let's look at what the seniors are paying.’ Part of it is they can't afford the taxes.”

Councilor Rick Lombardi proposed the town moves forward to take advantage of federal money before the next budget is approved. “I’m concerned about the direction the federal government is going in. I'm concerned about the sustainability for this stuff. I don't understand it, I don't know where they are coming from,” said Lombardi. “But let’s make this happen.”

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