Future of former nursing home debated
A number of residents voiced their opposition to a proposed apartment complex on Taylor Avenue at the Fairfield City Council meeting Monday.
John Kuster plans to remodel the former Nelson Nursing Home and turn it into an apartment complex that could house 19 units. Kuster wants the council to rezone the building from R2 to R3 so it can hold multiple units.
The council passed the first reading of the ordinance to rezone the property 7-0 at its April 8 meeting, but decided to table the ordinance Monday after hearing from neighbors who were opposed to the rezoning.
Residents who live near the former nursing home wrote letters in opposition to the rezoning. At Monday’s meeting, those letters were given to the council. Jason Titze wrote one of those letters, which he read aloud at the meeting.
Titze said he and his family moved to Fairfield eight years ago and bought a home here seven years ago. He bought a home that needed many repairs but was in a “peaceful and well kept area,” so he settled on a home near the former nursing home.
Titze was concerned the council has not taken into consideration the effect the apartment complex would have on the neighborhood. He was particularly worried about the increase in traffic on Taylor since many small children live on the street. He also was worried the apartment complex would lower the surrounding property values.
Titze and others who spoke against the rezoning were apprehensive about the possibility the apartment complex would turn into subsidized housing.
Dawn Bechtel, who lives in the neighborhood, said she was neither for nor against the rezoning. She said she doesn’t want the building to sit empty and house mold and wild animals, but at the same time she’s concerned it will become low-income housing.
“We would not have bought the house had we known there was going to be low-income housing there,” she said.
Kuster took the microphone and said his apartments were not low-income housing. He said he plans to charge $500 for the one-bedroom apartments and $700 for the two-bedroom apartments.
Kuster said one reason he wants to remodel the former nursing home is to create housing for SunnyBrook Nursing Home employees. Betty Howell, the founder of SunnyBrook, said her company employs a large number of single mothers who have a difficult time finding good housing.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in an employee’s home and it’s been absolutely horrendous to see what they’re living in,” she said.
Howell said the complex will have an on-site manager, who will expect the tenants to maintain their dwellings.
Kuster said the applicants Howell hires are required to go through background checks.
“We have really good employees, and we think they have the right to live in the community where they work,” he said.
Howell said her employees could fill all 19 units. She said SunnyBrook has 187 employees in Fairfield alone. Kuster said if the SunnyBrook employees do not take all the apartments then he will allow others to rent them.
Tracy Vance, director of the Fairfield Economic Development Association, supports Kuster and Howell’s project to turn the unoccupied building into an apartment complex.
“We do have a housing issue in the city,” he said. “While I’m not trying to be insensitive to the impact on the community, the impact may not be quite as great as what some people fear.”
Vance said part of his job is to look for reuses of vacant buildings.
“This is the only reuse for this facility,” he said.
Vance said another reason he supports the project is Kuster and Howell have a good track record in Fairfield.
“Look at their properties and the way they take care of them now,” he said.
City Administrator Kevin Flanagan agreed with Vance that the only conceivable use of the former nursing home was housing. He said it is impractical to think a developer would spend the money to tear the building down and build a new one on top of it.
Councilor John Revolinski said some neighbors may have gotten the wrong impression that the city was creating a new business district. He said only the former nursing home was being rezoned, not the surrounding properties.
Councilor Daryn Hamilton said he also heard rumors from people who said the addition of an apartment complex would overwhelm the sewer in that part of town. He investigated the matter and found that was not true.