After a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting in October where resident after resident spoke in opposition to a proposed senior living facility project eyed for Pimpewaug Rd., the application has been completely withdrawn and is likely a no-go.
Last week, Wilton’s land use department had posted an agenda with the continued public hearing on the project scheduled for tonight’s P&Z meeting. But late Friday afternoon, P&Z released a revised meeting agenda, noting that the application had been withdrawn. GOOD Morning Wilton confirmed with First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice that Brightview Senior Living, the Maryland-based developer, had walked away.
The proposed development was for a senior living community combining independent living, assisted living and memory care to allow seniors to age in place. Brightview officials said they had identified a need in the region, specifically in Wilton, and had two other facilities in various stages in the area–Norwalk and Shelton. The company, which currently owns and operates 36 similar projects between Virginia and Boston, hoped to create a “cluster” of senior living communities throughout Connecticut and New York, and were eager to move forward with the Wilton development.
The model was slightly different than other senior living facilities–the project was rental, rather than requiring a large, often six-figure buy in entry point for residents than other senior living facilities require. It also would have had an affordability component.
Company officials had also underscored a desire to be “good neighbors” within the neighborhood, adapting the esthetics of the development to fit what is customary in the community. At the November BOS meeting, Brightview development associate Steve Marker said, “We want to become part of the community and build relationships rather than infringe because we’ll be here a long time. We don’t build and sell, we grow in the number of opportunities.”
After discussing the project with representatives from the Wilton Historical Society, Brightview included plans in the proposal to preserve and restore a historic structure on the 2 Pimpewaug Rd. parcel, something at the time Vanderslice had called a potential “big win for the property,” noting that this was a case where a developer was “eager” to save the house before even going through the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) approval process.
The project had been on the drawing board since 2018 when Brightview representatives presented plans for what they hoped to build on the 6.91 acres at the corner of Pimpewaug Rd. and Rte. 7/Danbury Rd.. At the time, Brightview had already entered into contract to purchase the privately-owned properties at 2 and 24 Pimpewaug Rd.. In November 2018 they addressed the Board of Selectmen with an offer to purchase a small .209 acre sliver of town-owned land attached to 2 Pimpewaug Rd. at the edge of the property, in order to gain frontage on Rt. 7. The plan was supported by Vanderslice and town planner Robert Nerney, and eventually the entire BOS, which voted in favor of the land sale. However, a small hiccup in finding the original deed torpedoed the transaction with the town–but Brightview was able to create a workaround and proceed nonetheless to its next step–Planning & Zoning.
Planning & Zoning Resistance
In October, for the project’s first appearance in front of P&Z, the attorney representing the developer, Casey Healy, presented an application for text changes to Wilton’s zoning regulations, including among other things, increasing the unit density, allowing taller maximum hight, and changing parking regulations.
The proposed changes encountered some resistance from commissioners. Before opening up commenting to the public, vice chair Rick Tomasetti reminded his fellow P&Z members, “These applications are discretionary on our part. As I see this, I see a piece of property that currently does not comply with the use you’re proposing, and you’re looking to change a regulation to accommodate that with some other modifications in place.”
The meeting took place shortly after the commission had wrapped up its work on the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development, much of which reflected on a need to update zoning regulations, but in a broader, master planning way–something Tomasetti pointed to in his thoughts about Brightview’s request.
“I would ask you the question, why would we go about today on one application to move forward with something of this magnitude before we actually did our work in terms of the master plan?”
Fellow commissioner Christopher Pagliaro agreed: “I’m not comfortable sitting here looking at massing and height changes without really understanding what we want to do with the master plan.”
Tomasetti added that the town already has senior living facilities, but has fewer options for younger residents, something else commissioners hope to address in the master plan process.
“I really want our process to take place. For far too long, we’ve been reactionary on things like this. We have to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘What do we want of our community?’”
Public comment was overwhelmingly in opposition, especially with regard to size and scope.
“It’s going to be looming over the neighbors, …in a very historic area and charming area. I’m not sure it’s the right place for it given the size and scope,” said Jennifer Longmire, a Cannon Rd. resident. Mark Froelich, who lives on the property just north on Pimpewaug Rd., said, “It’s not in line with what the community of Wilton needs, what the residents like myself want. It’s not appropriate to put it there.”
Vanderslice Responds to News of Deal Collapse
Vanderslice sent the following comment to GMW after hearing that the deal has fallen apart, expressing her disapppointment:
“Generally it is better when the application process plays out, allowing for dialogue and collaboration between the applicant, the commission, neighbors, and residents.
“There were attributes of the project, which warranted consideration: demographic data documented the need for more of this type of housing, the significant historic home would be saved, a much needed traffic light would possibly be installed and the estimated annual property taxes would be equivalent to 50 single-family homes. Also, there was the risk of a subsequent 8-30 (g) application with significantly greater density over which the Planning & Zoning Commission would have little to no control.
“In a time of declining or flat demand for commercial and single-family homes across Fairfield County and within Wilton, we need appropriate multi-unit residential senior, empty-nester and young adult housing development to ensure the vitality and the affordability of our town.
“There will be more large project applications. I encourage all residents to engage in the process, become educated about the proposals and communicate your thoughts to the Planning & Zoning Commission to help shape the future of our community.
“From the outset, Brightview expressed their desire to work with a community, not against it.”
GOOD Morning Wilton has reached out to Marker at Brightview and Healy, the project’s attorney, for comment.