Madison Receives Proposals For Island School Ownership
By Jesse Williams / Zip06.com • 07/20/2021 3:38 PM EST
The old Island Avenue school, closed by the city in 2019 and occupied since by the private Academy K-8 Our Lady of Mercy (OLMPA) with an annual lease, should see its final fate decided in the coming months with three concrete proposals . submitted for officials to scrutinize before sending the issue to voters.
The Board of Selectmen (BOS) is planning a public forum on Tuesday, August 3 that will include representatives from the three entities seeking to buy the property answering questions from residents and presenting their proposals, after which the BOS will likely vote to relocate. one of the three to other councils, and possibly voters.
After postponing a permanent decision on the island until the spring of 2020 when it renewed the OLMPA lease for an additional year, the BOS mandated a citizens’ committee that spent just under a year deliberating on a permanent way forward for the property. This committee ultimately recommended that the property be sold to a school or residential developer, and worked with local project management firm Colliers International to draft a request for proposals (RFP) last May.
The city has had the island valued this year for $ 2.1 million and will seek to balance tax revenues with a solution that will be accessible to residents. First Selectman Peggy Lyons said a good financial deal for taxpayers will be important, but not the only consideration going forward.
Marc Sklenka, a consultant with local project management firm Colliers International which works with the island town, said he believed some developers were “scared” by the deed’s restrictions on the property. He said there were a handful of other developers who showed up for a visit to Island a few months ago and didn’t make any proposals.
Sklenka added that all of the submissions were of high quality and both residential developers have full and impressive resumes.
The OLMPA has long indicated that it is interested in purchasing the property as a permanent residence for its school, and it has submitted an offer to the city for $ 2.3 million, indicating that it will use a for-profit entity. to buy the school to ensure that the city receives tax revenue in the future.
The other two respondents to the RFP are Beacon Communities of Massachusetts and Newport Realty located in Plantsville, Connecticut. They offered $ 250,000 and $ 300,000 respectively, with very different plans on developing the island for residential purposes.
Lyons said she hopes to have Island on a referendum for voters by next February.
Beacon’s proposal would completely demolish the school building and construct seven townhouses and a large apartment-style “community space” building, creating a total of 70 units. These would be divided with 80 percent of living spaces reserved for the elderly and the remaining 20 percent limited to families with children in foster care, with the stated intention that elderly residents would support foster families with community events and on-site cuisine.
Newport is proposing to keep at least part of the school intact, turning that part of the building into senior housing. He would further build 10 three-bedroom duplex style condos and try to preserve wetlands on the property, ending with a total of 22 units.
Part of the school building would also be dedicated to community space, although it is not clear exactly what that space would be.
Beacon and Newport are proposing to build playgrounds or leave green spaces open on the property that will be accessible to the general public.
OLMPA’s proposal is much simpler, as the property would continue to be used as it was during the last two years of their lease with the city. In her proposal, she highlighted the established relationship she has with the city and neighboring landlords, as well as an online survey conducted by the city last year showing a plurality of residents who favor OLMPA as a buyer.
Another factor favoring OLMPA is that the heirs to the property, city attorney Kari Olson said, have made it clear to the city that they prefer the island to remain a school. The deed of the island gives the descendants of the previous owner the first chance to buy it at the sale price the town received.
Whether or not the heirs exercise this right of first refusal, the switch to residential use could create complications, according to Olson and Lyons, especially if the question is put to voters in a referendum as potential disputes and statutory deadlines come into play. conflict with other city obligations.
“Moving towards educational school type use… will be much more acceptable to heirs and more likely to achieve voluntary release,” Olson said.
Selectman Bruce Wilson said he wanted to reach out to residents to see if they were comfortable with the island’s decision made at the town assembly, although Lyons made it clear that she was aiming for a referendum in because of the scale and importance of the decision.
The difference in the purchase price between the residential developers and the OLMPA is partly due to the need for remediation and demolition, according to the Colliers consultants, as well as to the plans of these developers to invest significant sums in the construction. ownership, which OLMPA does not do. must necessarily do.
Colliers project manager Felicia Smith said Beacon plans to invest around $ 30 million in the property and Newport around $ 4 million.
Beacon’s proposal is both unique and complex, inspired by other communities the company has created in partnership with a Massachusetts-based nonprofit called The Treehouse Foundation, which came up with the idea of bringing the elderly and foster children in inclusive living spaces. The first of these opened in 2006, and Treehouse is currently looking to build two more.
Despite calling for tax breaks, Beacon said he estimates the project will still bring Madison in about $ 87,500 a year.
Newport’s proposal is smaller in scope with less density and fewer units, aimed at “a sense of place” and reserving about 50 feet of wetland setback to the north and east.
While it’s not entirely clear whether Beacon units would be deemed affordable by the state, it appeared that this project aligned with city officials’ stated goals of creating a more diverse housing stock. , which has also been sought after by some state lawmakers.
Beacon units would sell for about $ 350,000, while Newport units would sell for about $ 500,000 or rent about $ 2,000 per month in senior housing, Smith said, though those numbers would likely change depending on conditions. of the market.
Beacon’s proposal will also almost certainly require a significant zoning gap, specifically mentioning that the city may change the zoning of the property to suit the project. Earlier this year, town planner Dave Anderson spoke out in favor of residents who are at least seriously considering some kind of affordable housing on island property.
Olson informed the BOS that laws coming into effect this fall regarding affordable housing and zoning are likely to significantly take into account any residential development in the area, which includes changes to the number of parking spaces including a city. may need as well as many other adjustments.
She added that many land use experts have pushed cities across the state to recognize affordable housing includes unique propositions like Beacon’s after wealthy towns of Fairfield became too exclusive for people. like the teachers and firefighters who worked there.
“We have tried for years to dissuade people from believing that affordable housing equates to subsidized housing,” said Olson.
The public hearing will take place on August 3 in a hybrid format starting at 6 p.m.