WESTON, Conn. -- Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein began her annual State of the Town address before the Y’s Men of Weston/Westport last week by calling her town “financially strong,” but then moved on to an important issue before the community — its shifting demographics.
Weinstein, who has lived in Weston for 20 years, was elected to the Board of Selectmen in 2007 and became first selectman in 2009.
She called the town “well funded” and in “great shape.” Its 2015-16 budget totals $69.0 million, a 1.97 percent increase. Fund balances are strong, and capital improvements can be made with minimal borrowing, Weinstein said in the talk at the Unitarian Church in Westport.
Yet school enrollment is declining, and the Grand List is growing only slowly. And larger homes sit unsold longer than in the past — while those near the town’s median value of $800,000 attract bidding wars.
Her priorities are now managing mill rate growth and working to build the town's Grand List, she said.
Westport does not have these issues, Weinstein said. She questioned whether they are cyclical or secular: Will a strengthening economy resolve the issues, or is this a demographic shift away from small semi-rural bedroom communities?
Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, are the largest group of home buyers, and will determine how communities across the country evolve.
They are marrying later and deferring their first child longer than the preceding generation, resulting, Weinstein said, in the loss of “half a generation in the housing market and in school population.”
As they move into their mid-30s and start to follow in their parents footsteps, many will leave their “cool, vibrant cities,” Weinstein said. But she wonders whether they will be attracted to a Weston lifestyle, or will they prefer living in newer, smaller, easier to maintain homes closer to transportation, shopping and entertainment?
Meanwhile, seniors are living longer and aging in place, factors that may necessitate expanding services in Weston, including even providing some form of age restricted housing, she said.
Weston may want study the benefits of revising its zoning regulations, Weinstein said. Might allowing denser housing on a few of the remaining buildable lots, along some commercial development, make the community more attractive to young families who want what it might become, or simply upset long time residents who prefer it as they found it, she said.
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