WALLINGFORD — The Town Council voted Tuesday night to remove the affordable housing requirement for Simpson Village, a 55-and-older condominium complex on Center Street .
Three councilors voted against the change, and several residents also voiced disapproval for the motion.
Simpson Development LLC purchased Simpson School on Center Street for $100,000 in 2005, planning to build housing for adults 55 and over with a contract that stipulated that 30 percent of the units be reserved as affordable. Bob LaRosa, of LaRosa Construction C o., is listed as principal for the company, according to the secretary of the state.
The council subsequently voted to allow LaRosa to construct the affordable units last.
LaRosa and his attorneys argued that despite having the affordable units on the market for 18 months, they have only been unable to sell one due to the stipulations which require they be priced starting at $250,000, and that they be sold only to seniors with annual income of less than $68,000.
“It’s not that people can’t qualify; it’s that all of our buyers and the only people who have been interested in purchasing the units make more than $68,000 per year,” LaRosa said.
Councilors discussed the removal for over an hour, with many conflicting viewpoints expressed.
Republican Councilor Tom Laffin favored lifting the restriction, citing capitalist values.
“I love capitalism, the free market, so I think at this point, after a fair shake, I’m comfortable with releasing that so you guys can sell those houses,” Laffin said.
Republican Councilor Joseph Marrone was also in favor of removing the affordability restriction.
“The fact is not in dispute is that these units are not in demand in the way the units were structured,” Marrone said. “I see no reason to saddle the association with the increased fees of not having these units for sold.”
Unaffiliated Councilor John Sullivan was opposed to lifting the restriction.
“I think a contract is a contract. You walked into this knowing 30 percent of these properties need to be affordable,” Sullivan said. “I have to question, how were these properties marketed? Maybe you didn’t put a lot of marketing into this and maybe the plan was to come back here.”
LaRosa responded that he was “anxious” to sell the affordable units and marketed them aggressively.
Democratic Councilor Jason Zandri said considering the “song of a price” LaRosa bought the property for, he should stick to his end of the bargain and try more creative solutions to sell the remaining units.
“Those remaining five homes are overpriced and I don’t want to suggest you are creating a problem intentionally, but the price is too high,” Zandri said. “Why haven’t you dropped the price to try and entice people at a lower income level?”
The proposal was put up for public discussion and several residents approached the microphone, urging councilors to reject the motion.
Former mayoral candidate Donald Kennedy, who is retired, said he looked at Simpson Village when he was moving to town and passed it over because it was overpriced. He said the burden of the lack of sales should not be the council’s.
“The condo market is a very, very soft market and I don’t think we need to bend over to help the developer,” Kennedy said. “I’m sure he’s going to survive, so I think we should either ask him to lower his prices and make it more affordable for the seniors than for the council to give him another sweet deal.”
Resident Gina Morgenstein said for seniors with an income of less than $68,000, the units are not affordable, despite LaRosa’s claim.
“I plead with you gentlemen; this is not fair,” Morgenstein said. “Look at the ethics of our town trying to make it affordable for people to live in Wallingford. We need to set a tone, that is our seniors matter, our general population matters, the value of being able to afford matters. Not that a developer’s return on investment, money making, matters. Our morals, what we say to our public matters.”
Two other residents also urged the council to reject the removal of the affordable housing requirement, including Bob Gross, who cited that other homes in the area that are selling for less than $250,000.
After further discussion, Democratic Councilor Vincent Testa proposed an amendment to keep the price based on the affordable housing calculation at $250,000 to honor the spirit of the original agreement. The amendment failed on a 5-4 vote, with Testa and Republicans Chairman Vincent Cervoni, Craig Fishbein and John LeTourneau voting in favor. Zandri, Sullivan, Laffin, Marrone, and Republican Councilor Christopher Shortell opposed it.
The decision to remove the affordable requirement in its entirety was then passed by the council on a 6-3 vote. Cervoni, Fishbein, LeTourneau, Marrone, Laffin and Shortell voted in favor of the removal. Testa, Zandri and Sullivan voted against the motion.
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