BOS Authorizes $130,000 Consulting Contract in Big Step Forward for Long-Awaited Wilton Center Master Plan

Source: Wilton Center Master Plan Review of Study Area (Jan. 20, 2021)

At Tuesday’s Oct. 19 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting, the Town’s leadership took a major step forward in the much-anticipated Master Planning process for Wilton Center, aimed at the strategic use and development of the area at the very heart of Wilton.

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Selectmen authorized First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to execute a contract for consulting services with BFJ Planning (Buckhurst Fish and Jacquemart, Inc.), a land use and planning consulting firm based in New York.

Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development, enacted in 2019, called for a Master Planning process with the goal to “strengthen Wilton Center as a vibrant economic, residential, recreational, and cultural hub for the community and region.”

The Master Plan will be a comprehensive roadmap for how Wilton can utilize and optimize Wilton Center, including residential and commercial development, and with consideration for everything from the Norwalk River to streetscape design, buildings heights, parking, civic/green space, historical preservation, wetlands, infrastructure and other initiatives already in progress (e.g., NRVT expansion, Schenck’s Island/ Merwin Meadows improvements, etc.).

Prior to the board’s action during the meeting, Wilton’s Director of Land Use and Town Planner Michael Wrinn updated the selectmen on the status of the final negotiated contract.

The consulting services will come at a cost of $130,000.

Wrinn said the deliverables would be comprehensive, including a set of updated zoning regulations.

“One hundred thirty thousand dollars gets us soup to nuts, a completed plan, ready to get put in the zoning regulations,” Wrinn said.

He also noted the option for Wilton to obtain form-based code upon completion of the project. If desired by Wilton, that option would be an additional $20,000.

Wrinn told the selectmen BFJ has already signed the contract. “They’d like to hit the ground running,” he said, as soon as the board gave approval.

During the discussion about the contract, Selectwoman Deborah McFadden highlighted one particular aspect of BFJ’s experience. “One of the things that was really pleasing was they have experience with development along rivers,” citing projects in Hartford and Haverstraw, New York. “I think that that will really serve us well because one area I think that we should really highlight in [Wilton Center] is our river. I don’t think we leverage it.”

The selectmen also questioned Wrinn about opportunities for residents to weigh in with feedback and views for the consultant to consider during the planning process. Selectman Ross Tartell said from a “community involvement perspective” it is important that “the public will have an opportunity to contribute, and that will help them feel like they’ve been heard.”

Wrinn assured the selectmen there would be multiple occasions for the public to participate in the process.

Selectman Josh Cole expressed his appreciation for the important groundwork that’s been done to date, telling Wrinn, “I know this agreement that’s before us now [is] the culmination of a lot of work and a lot of meetings and a lot of thought put into it by [P&Z] and the subcommittee. So thank you all for all of the work and thought you’ve put into this and getting it to this point.”

Whatever Happened to Plans for a Pedestrian Bridge?

Going back as far as 2007, town officials have been trying to get a pedestrian bridge over the Norwalk River, to link Wilton Center to the train station. Last February, the Town finally received a commitment from the State Department of Transportation, promising $1,405,200 in grant money for the construction of the bridge.

But the pandemic seemed to bring the momentum to a grinding halt.

“It’s been quite a slog,” Wrinn said, referring to slowdowns at the state level in making further progress.

“All the engineering plans have been sent up to the state. It’s basically in their lap,” he said. “We’re hoping to get started in the spring. And it’s a quick turnaround time. The idea is that we work through the winter with construction drawings and that type of thing, to get all of those done.”

One silver lining of the delay is that construction costs are starting to come down, Wrinn says, so the Town may be better off from a cost standpoint compared to last spring.