The situation surrounding the amendments to the ground lease for the Eno Farms affordable housing development is a complex scenario involving a deep history that has left the town and tenants at a crossroads.
Simsbury residents voted against changes to the Eno Farms ground lease proposed by the town during a recent town meeting. Some were tenants of the affordable housing complex and others were advocates who have followed the Eno Farms development.
This week, town officials are hoping to work with residents to find a reasonable resolution to a complex situation that has unfolded over two decades.
“This is a complicated situation with a lot of moving parts,” Simsbury’s Administrative Director Tom Cooke said.
Cooke has only been working for the town since last year and admits that there are few people who have a clear picture of the development’s complex history.
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Town officials are attempting to amend the existing lease agreement before the property is sold by CHFA Small Properties, the current owner of a 99-year lease on the improvements at Eno Farms. CHFA took over management of the property following foreclosure proceedings against the former owner, Corporation for Independent Living.
Town attorney Robert DeCrescenzo said amendments to the lease need to be made before a new owner is found.
According to Deputy First Selectman John Hampton, the town hopes to achieve three main goals by amending the lease:
- To ensure the intent of the Eno deed is fully realized by providing housing to low and moderate income residents
- To ensure proper maintenance of the property
- To clarify financial terms of the lease to give prospective tenants a clear understanding of their financial commitment
Simsbury residents who spoke during a recent town meeting expressed concerns about the inclusion of moderate-income tenants and an amendment that would ease the process for the town to make further amendments in the future.
“Ever since the inclusion of moderate income group entered the designation of this housing complex, things have run off the skids,” former attorney Huguet Pameijer said.
After Eno Farms was built and occupied, Pameijer became a member of the Simsbury Housing Partnership Committee, a group of citizens charged with working with the town to develop affordable housing, and became an advocate for the low-income residents of the development.
Cooke, who has been familiarizing himself with the Eno Farms development, said he hopes the newly formed Eno Farms subcommittee will be able to work effectively with residents to find a resolution.
“I’m hoping that we are where we are because of communications issues not because of substance issues,” Cook said. “I think if people really understand what we’re trying to do is make sure that there are really almost no changes as we move forward.”
The subcommittee, which includes Selectmen Lisa Heavner and Sean Askham, will hold a public meeting on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. at town hall to discuss the issue with residents.
Under its previous ownership, the Eno Farms housing development was plagued by lawsuits and accused of questionable management practices and a loose adherence to the intent of the Eno deed in a 12-page letter sent by former Assistant Attorney General Janet Spaulding-Ruddell to Simsbury town officials in 1997.
The letter detailed an investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Public Charities Unit into the issues facing Eno Farms and recommended changes to remedy the situation.
To Serve the Poor
The land where the Eno Farms affordable housing complex is located is part of a 140-acre parcel of land deeded to the Town of Simsbury by Amos Eno in 1882 to “be used for the occupation, maintenance, and support” of the town’s poor population, according to the deed on file in the Simsbury Land Records.
The land is located in the northern part of town and stretches from Hopmeadow Street east to the Farmington River. The land currently supports Eno Farms, the Virginia Connelly senior housing development, the Community Farm of Simsbury, and the town’s landfill.
In earlier years, the town’s indigent population was allowed to live and work on the farm. After World War II, the farm was operated as a dairy until the last remaining resident vacated the property in 1981.
The town then began to consider options for the farm that would fulfill the charitable requirement of the deed. In 1989, the farm was reborn as the Town Farm Dairy, which later became a non-profit organization in 2005. The dairy was closed in 2008 after the discovery of milk tainted with E. coli bacteria.
In 2009 a collaboration of the town, the Ethel Walker School, and Billings Forge Community Works of Hartford became what is now known as the Community Farm of Simsbury, a non-profit educational farm led by Executive Director Tim Goodwin.
“The charitable mission is being accomplished as all food grown in the teaching gardens is donated to local food distribution services including Simsbury Social Services, Gifts of Love, and Billings Forge Community Works,” according to the Community Farm of Simsbury website.
The town also continues to manage affordable housing units on the farm property, which now occupies 77 acres of the Eno land.
The town of Simsbury contacted the state attorney general’s office in 1989 about using a portion of the Eno property to develop housing for low-income residents. Former Assistant Attorney General David Orenstedt specified that the development would be in line with the Eno deed as long as it served residents “at or below poverty line,” according to Spaulding-Ruddell’s letter.
The town’s decision to develop more affordable housing units was in response to affordable housing legislation passed in 1989 with the intent of encouraging affluent towns to provide housing options for the poor, according to Pameijer.
When the project went to bid, the committee selected the Corporation for Independent Living, a non-profit group home developer from Wethersfield, according to the letter. This would be the company’s first affordable housing project.
The town entered into a ground lease agreement with CIL on June 28, 1991 and at that point Spaulding-Ruddell said the town “stepped out of the picture” and left all aspects of the organization, financing, development, and management of Eno Farms to CIL.
To finance the development, CIL made use of a state loan from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority for approximately $1.8 million, a second Private Rental Investment Mortgage and Equity Program loan from the Department of Housing for approximately $2.8 million and a third private loan for $895,000, according to Pameijer.
“As soon as the PRIME grant came in, in my opinion, it was in conflict with the intent of the deed,” Pameijer said.
The use of private loan money further complicated the situation and led to additional complications in the path to an affordable housing complex.
“Characteristically CIL hybridized the legal requirements of both programs to create an outcome that does not precisely or clearly follow the provisions of the other,” Spaulding-Ruddell’s letter said.
What came as a result of the complicated financing would soon lead to broad interpretations of the Eno deed, according to Spaulding-Ruddell. These interpretations created a host of other complicated scenarios for tenants at Eno Farms.
Editor’s Note:This story is part of a three-part series to investigate the history of the Eno Farms affordable housing development.