Litchfield News

Public meeting slated on affordable housing plan (04-04-18)

A public information meeting on a plan to create affordable housing at the former Bantam School will be held April 19 at the Bantam Borough Hall.

The meeting will allow the Litchfield Housing Trust to present its plan and answer questions from the public.

The plan calls for the building – with the exception of its gym and the Bantam post office – to be turned into 14 rental apartments. On the grounds of the 10.5-acre property, 10 or 12 single-family houses would be built.

The apartments and houses would be for families meeting income guidelines. Under the plan, the property would be turned over to the housing trust. Transfer of the property would require approval by voters.

If voters grant approval, it would allow the housing trust to seek state funding for the rehabilitation of the former school and construction of the houses.

Endorsements of the plan have come from the Board of Selectmen and Borough of Bantam Warden Richard Sheldon. Although Sheldon supports the idea, the Borough Board of Warden and Burgesses has yet to take an official stance on the proposal.

The borough did provide funding to complement funding from the selectmen for environmental studies of the building and its grounds. The studies determined that it would cost about $250,000 to remediate environmental issues such as asbestos, lead paint and underground contamination.

There is opposition to the proposal, with most of it coming from Bantam. Those opposed believe the property is too valuable to transfer to the housing trust and that it should be maintained for municipal uses.

In addition to the post office, the building houses five town offices. The housing trust plan calls for the gym and post office to stay put, but the town offices will be moving out at some point under a directive of the Board of Selectmen. The board last year voted to end the use of the property for municipal purposes.

Many opponents of the plan turned out for the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday. They came to hear Petricone brief the board on the project and ask questions about it. Several of those who commented said the town shouldn’t give up the property and that using it for affordable housing would not be wise.

First Selectman Leo Paul Jr. explained that the property will soon become a financial burden for the town because the $200,000 a year the town received in rent from Bantam Superior Court is gone. The rent was used to maintain the building, but with the court having gone to Torrington the town is looking at having to pay up to $180,000 annually for maintenance, according to Paul.

Transferring the property to the housing trust would be the best way to eliminate the town’s financial liability, according to the selectmen, who said the town would benefit from property taxes generated by the affordable housing units.

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