‘Growing need for senior housing’: Sherman commission recommends apartments, guest houses

The Sherman Housing Commission submits a report with recommendations for affordable senior housing options in town.

The Sherman Housing Commission submits a report with recommendations for affordable senior housing options in town.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHERMAN — A report found an increasing demand for senior housing in town, proposing building an apartment building or guest houses for these residents.

“There is indeed a growing need for senior housing,” the Sherman Housing Commission wrote in a report submitted Thursday to the Board of Selectmen.

The commission, which has been researching the issue for years, recommended a “two-pronged approach” to create senior housing.

“The town of Sherman is about the only town in this area that does not have any type of housing for seniors, and I just think that’s a flaw — that’s not good,” Selectman Kevin Keenan said.

The report suggests constructing a two-story, vernacular-style building with 18 to 24 “reasonably-priced” studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The commission not only evaluated several privately-owned properties, but considered leasing town-owned land — the latter of which would “result in a positive tax revenue for the town,” according to the commission’s report.

Land west of the senior center was considered, but found to have “inherent physical limitations,” according to the commission.

The other is a 47-acre parcel of land behind the American Pie Company restaurant on Route 37, which had been considered but rejected in a town vote.

According to the Housing Commission’s report, the “negative reaction at the time of the vote was due in part to the misconception that the project would take over the soccer fields, when in fact it would [not].”

Keenan said the land behind American Pie is “an ideal place” for senior housing.

“In the last go-around when it was voted on, it was largely misunderstood,” he said.

The need for senior housing in Sherman has only increased since that vote, according to the report.

Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging estimates that nearly 25 percent of Sherman residents are 65 or older and projects the state’s elderly population to see a 57 percent increase between 2010 and 2040.

In its report, Sherman’s housing commission listed several benefits to leasing town-owned land — including additional tax revenue and town retention of land ownership. It also noted that a senior living complex with a “well designed physical layout” near the center of town would allow “easier and safer access” to first responders.

The commission also recommends allowing guest houses on four-acre lots. The report called it a “simple approach that can be done with a zoning revision.”

Existing zoning regulations only allow accessory dwellings on parcels of at least eight acres.

A senior housing facility would work for those who want to free themselves of home ownership responsibilities or seek greater socialization and less isolation, according to the report.

But a guest house option may be “attractive to seniors who are self-sufficient, able to drive and do not suffer from isolation or loneliness,” the report states.

Moving forward

Following the submission of the report, the commission chairman and two members resigned.

In a letter to the selectmen, Chairman Frank Copsidas said it was “a true honor” to serve, but he believes the commission has “gone as far as (it) can.”

Having achieved their task, the commissioners “feel it is time for the town to decide what we as citizens, neighbors and friends want for our town and our senior citizens,” Copsidas said.

The selectmen agreed senior housing in Sherman is long overdue and briefly discussed possible ways to move forward, but did not come up with a plan during its Thursday meeting.

Selectman Bob Ostrosky suggested looking into zoning regulation changes as the commission recommended.

“There are multiple ways that we can support housing,” Otsrosky said. “I think we should talk or encourage and/or discuss with Planning and Zoning to start thinking about that. There are ways to — in the short term — address some of this.”

First Selectman Don Lowe said Monday that he thinks the commission’s report, along with several surveys on the subject over the years, “help validate the need for senior housing in Sherman and, in many instances, a positive interest in it.”

“However,” he said, “I really don’t believe that senior housing will come about in Sherman solely through the town’s doing.”