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Housing trust plan for Bantam aired at public hearing
Litchfield.bz (05-16-18)


Above, a rendering of the former Bantam School property and how it would appear as affordable housing developed by the Litchfield Housing Trust.
 
The process of how a proposed transfer of the former Bantam School and the 10.5 acres its sits on to the Litchfield Housing Trust was laid out for residents at a public hearing at Litchfield Intermediate School on Tuesday.
 
If voters approve the proposed transfer in a referendum likely to be held later this year, it would take about three years for the housing trust to acquire state funding, remediate hazardous materials in the old school, clean up underground oil contamination, renovate the building for affordable rental housing, and build 10 ownership homes on the property for families qualifying for affordable housing under state guidelines.
 
The housing trust would likely need between $3.5 million and $4 million to carry out its plan, according to its president, Bob Petricone. Housing trust attorney Peter Herbst and the town’s attorney, Michael Rybak, explained the terms of an agreement between the trust and the town outlining the terms of the transfer.
 
Under the proposal, the Bantam post office would remain in the old school but would become a tenant of the housing trust. The post office currently pays the town annual rent of $59,000. In addition, the gym in the building would be renovated and its use by Parks and Recreation Department programs would be allowed to continue.
 
The Board of Selectmen, which held Tuesday’s hearing, has endorsed the proposed affordable housing plan. Selectmen believe the property is well-suited for affordable housing. By transferring the property to the housing trust, the town would be relieved of the financial burden of maintaining the site, according to the selectmen.
 
The town would receive no money from a transfer of the property. Instead of paying cash, the housing trust would assume responsibility for removing hazardous materials and underground oil at an estimated cost of $278,000.
 
David Berto of Housing Enterprises, a consulting firm working with the town, said the old school is an idea site for rental apartments.
 
“It lays out nicely for affordable housing because the classrooms are the right size for apartments,” Berto said.
 
First Selectman Leo Paul Jr. explained the background on the selectmen’s decision to approach the housing trust with the idea of using the property for affordable housing. Use of the property as a school or a town hall, Paul said, was ruled out by committees established by the town to review facilities.
 
At some point, Paul added, the five town offices in the building will be moved out and relocated. Where the offices will go has yet to be determined, he said.
 
There were plenty of critics of the proposed transfer to the housing trust at the hearing. Gary Gillman of Litchfield, Paul Haas of Bantam, Kim MacDonald, a Bantam property owner, Peter Moritz of East Litchfield and the chairman of Bantam’s Planning and Zoning Commission, John Langer, all said the property is too great of an asset to surrender and should be maintained for municipal use. Jim Stedronsky of the Board of Finance said the town should receive financial compensation for transferring the property and urged the selectmen to negotiate a fair deal with the housing trust.
 
Lyle Linsley of Bantam offered a different take on the issue.
 
“I don’t want to see any more people in Bantam,” Linsley said.