ARB/VDDAC Has Much to Like: New Store Sign, New Lovers Ln. Bridge, New Police HQ

Photo: VDDAC Application materials

Kicking off the fall after a brief summer recess, the Architectural Review Board (ARB) and Village District Design Advisory Committee (VDDAC) weighed in on changes coming to Wilton small business storefronts and major town infrastructure projects alike. In two cases, the changes underway involve new locations for businesses that recently relocated out of 21 River Rd., the southern portion of Kimco’s Wilton Center campus, which the company is targeting for redevelopment as a 160-unit multi-family residential complex.

A New Home & New Look for Classically Cate

First on the docket were signage plans for Classically Cate’s new location at 77 Old Ridgefield Rd. Opened in 2019, the shop is owned by resident Caitlyn Finnecy, who described the store as “a youthful boutique” in an interview with GOOD Morning Wilton.

Finnecy herself presented to the VDDAC, explaining that as part of the relocation, Classically Cate will be debuting a new logo and brand intended to “inject whimsey while maintaining a level of sophistication.” She cited eBay, Apple, and Adobe as brands whose logos helped inspire the new direction.

Town Planner Michael Wrinn explained to the Committee members that Finnecy submitted application materials for two signs, Sign A (shown in the above photo) intended for the front façade of the building and a second sign (Sign B) intended for the side façade. The prior tenant, Coldwell Banker, had signs on both sides but Wrinn noted that zoning as written only allows for one sign at the location.

“My advice,” he said, “Is to get the big sign up, get the store open, and then figure out whether to go to ZBA [Zoning Board of Appeals] for the other sign.” Finnecy agreed with Wrinn’s recommendation.

The VDDAC members had only minor alteration requests for the sign plans. Chair Rob Sanders suggested a change in the lighting fixtures that would cast light more directionally at the sign. The members also agreed that the border on the sign should be slightly raised to mimic similar signage within Wilton Center.

However, Sanders summed up, “The shape, area, and color [of the sign] are all fine.” The committee voted unanimously to approve the signage plan.

The friendly discussion and easy approval of the sign stands in contrast to a much more contentious discussion earlier this summer at the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), where some members objected to the placement of tenant logos on commercial buildings. VDDAC is an advisory committee to P&Z.

Regarding a signage plan submitted by Hartford Healthcare Corp. that would have placed tenant logos on the rear façade of its complex at 50 and 60 Ridgefield Rd., one Commission member declared during the Aug. 24 meeting, “I don’t care if you don’t see it from the street. It’s branding and I don’t think we need to brand buildings.”

Hartford Healthcare Corp. will return to P&Z this evening, however, documents submitted ahead of the meeting show the signage plan appears to have undergone minimal changes if any. The applicants have, however, submitted photographs of similarly branded signage along Ridgefield Rd. and articulated a narrative case for the proposed logo-based signage being in compliance with Wilton’s zoning regulations.

A New Bridge for Lovers Lane

Classically Cate was the only project on the agenda for VDDAC, so following that presentation, the group reconvened in its role as ARB. For the first of two major pieces of town infrastructure presented during the meeting, Wilton Director of Public Works Frank Smeriglio introduced updated plans for a new bridge on Lovers Ln. across Comstock Brook near the entrance to Merwin Meadows.

Smeriglio opened by explaining that since the previous presentation roughly 18 months prior, the team had determined that leaving one lane of traffic open on the existing bridge during construction would not be feasible. Instead, a temporary bridge will be built and deconstructed once the new bridge is ready for use.

He outlined design plans for the structure that would use New England mosaic stone with a concrete cap. The rails along the bridge itself would be black with metal posts and steel-backed guardrails along the approach. As visual inspiration, he referenced the bridge crossing the Silvermine River along Mariomi Rd. in New Canaan, the continuation of Wilton’s Cheese Spring Rd.

Looking ahead to the project timeline, Smeriglio explained that the $3.1 million project is expected to begin the easement process in the fall or winter of this year, which will involve discussions with four affected residences. He noted that he is already in touch with those property owners. The project will also need to be reviewed by the Inland Wetlands Commission, which will weigh in on impact mitigations and plantings along the route. Smeriglio said that construction should begin in 2023.

The members of ARB received the plan well with only minimal comments on design. “Overall, we’re endorsing what we see,” Sanders said. He urged the town to remain in active conversation with the owners of the affected neighboring properties as the plan progresses.

A New Headquarters for the Wilton Police Department

ARB then received a lengthy presentation by Tecton Architects on the proposed new headquarters for the Wilton Police Department.

Wrinn began by outlining the next steps in the project. “They want to do something in the spring so they’re pushing us pretty hard,” he explained. “They’re getting ready to move forward with a variance application with ZBA, then they’re going to P&Z with a special permit application. But you’re the first step here.”

Chris Burney, Facilities Director at Wilton’s Department of Public Works, introduced the project, noting that the team had taken ARB’s earlier suggestions to heart. The presentation itself was delivered by Rebecca Hopkins, project architect and the manager of emerging technology at Tecton.

At first, viewing the updated exterior design as a flat elevation drawing, Sanders expressed concern that too much value engineering — the simplification of design elements in order to reduce project cost — had taken place.

“It feels like it lost something between the schematic design and what we see now,” he said. “I’m looking for a bit more dimensionality, which has slipped away from us.”

His concerns seemed allayed however when the group had a chance to view the design in an artistic rendering. Vice Chair Sam Gardner declared of the rendering slide, “This page really helps — this is not just a simple box. The different metals and their dimensionality create a sophisticated surface that you just can’t see in the elevations.” Sanders too seemed reassured, though he urged the design team to consider replicating the entryway pier elements at all four corners of the building, a suggestion that the group agreed to look into.

In closing, Sanders said, “We continue to support the direction you’re going in and we are excited about putting a strong municipal foot forward — it’s time to do that in this town.”

New Tenants for Sharp Hill Square

Before closing the meeting, the ARB heard a brief presentation from Patrick Downend, developer of the Sharp Hill Square complex at 200 Danbury Rd. on the screening of an air conditioning unit on the property. One of the two proposals presented, which will cover the unit in an L-shaped wooden screen, was the favorite, with the board requesting that the wood be allowed to weather naturally.

Depiction of L-shaped wooden screening for a/c at Sharp Hill Square, submitted to ARB

After a quick approval, the group then asked Downend for an update on the site’s tenants. Wilton Hardware, which like Classically Cate recently relocated from Kimco’s 21 River Rd., is set to open this week, Downend reported. He also noted that a coffee shop would likely soon come to the historic Morehouse building. Tenant interest in the complex remains strong, he said.

Looking Ahead

The next meeting of the Architectural Review Board and Village District Design Advisory Committee is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 6.