Senior housing floated for old Bethel police station — if it doesn’t get demolished – Danbury News Times

BETHEL — The former police station property on Plumtrees Road is likely to be demolished, but some say the vacant building should be dedicated to affordable senior housing.

Selectman Rich Straiton proposed the idea at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting, saying it would not only be “a great asset to the town,” but help fulfill the housing needs of Bethel’s aging residents.

“I’ve had senior citizens come up and ask why there’s a three-year waiting list for senior housing. I mean, there are people waiting who unfortunately die before they even get on that list,” he said. “The old police station is just sitting there, and I’d like to see that property (used for) senior housing. There’s definitely a need for it.”

First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker said ideas for future use of the old police station site have been floated — like turning it into a skate park or creating additional parking for the nearby soccer fields — but senior housing is a new one that he believes “should be examined.”

“There’s a very severe shortage of (affordable) senior housing and definitely a need for it in town. No doubt about that,” he said.

The building has been mostly vacant since fall 2018, when officers moved into their new station on Judd Avenue. The construction company that renovated the nearby elementary schools used the old station as its office. However, the property has a host of issues, and the building is most likely to be demolished, Knickerbocker said.

Need for senior housing

Even though there have been a number of affordable housing units developed in Bethel in recent years, Straiton noted there are a lot of the seniors who can’t afford them.

Beth Cavagna, town planner and Bethel Housing Authority’s chair, said she’s happy that senior housing has been suggested for the old police station property.

“I’ve been talking about it for a while and I’m glad to see there is interest in the town to explore the possibility,” she said.

Out of all the town’s affordable housing needs, Cavagna said senior housing is the most needed.

“Bethel is very generational in nature and we want our seniors to stay in town,” she said.

Reynolds Ridge is the only town-owned senior housing development in Bethel.

Knickerbocker said the other age-restricted housing complex in town — Simeon Village — is privately owned, and the number of affordable units there has decreased over time.

“That was purchased by a private (entity) years ago — the town bid on it but didn’t win the bid — and as those units vacate, they’re being renovated and converted back to market rate apartments,” he said.

Knickerbocker said the dwindling number of affordable senior apartments at Simeon Village has been “putting pressure” on Reynolds Ridge.

“It’s a problem, and we don’t have a lot of real estate to put up any new buildings either,” he said.

Demolition likely

Although nothing has been officially decided, Knickerbocker said it’s likely that the old police station will eventually be demolished.

“The board hasn’t voted on this yet, but in all likelihood, there’s like a 99.9 percent chance that there’s really no use for the building except to tear it down,” he said.

To get to that point, though, the site would need to be examined.

Knickerbocker said the town looks to retain an engineering firm to determine if there’s anything that would need to be addressed prior to a demolition.

“The goal is really to understand what is in the building that needs to be remediated before we can tear it down,” he said. “We have to know how much asbestos, lead contamination, PCP contamination and so on there is so it can be safely taken down.”

Knickerbocker said the town is working out the agreement details with the firm and expects to finalize a contract within the next four weeks or so.

There is at least one known issue on the property — the old firing range, which has been deemed a hazardous site by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and locked up for several years due to lead dust.

“Lead dust sprays into the air when you fire a weapon and back when that building was built, it did not have the kind of high velocity and high capacity ventilation systems to clean and filter the air,” Knickerbocker said.

A number of years ago, he said, some officers had to be treated for lead contamination.

“That was a workers compensation issue and following that, OSHA came in and said, ‘Until you can remediate this building, you have to lock the door and seal it,’ so nobody goes in there,” Knickerbocker said.

Whatever is done with the old police station, he said the shooting range is “something that’s going to have to be treated as a hazardous waste site, basically.”