At last night’s meeting of the Wilton Planning & Zoning Commission, the commissioners opened the public hearing on an application for a five-lot subdivision on Cannon Rd. named Cannonwoods. The Wilton-based developer, Polito Builders, owns the 55-plus acre parcel from which the five lots on approximately 14 acres would be created. Seven other acres would be set aside as open space in perpetuity, and then the remaining land would be held by the developer.
The 55-acre parcel is situated in a residential two-acre (R-2) zone. It abuts several private residences as well as Seeley Preserve, several parcels owned by the Town of Wilton, and several acres of land held by the Wilton Land Conservation Trust.
While this was the first public hearing on this particular application, it may sound familiar. A prior application for the property that proposed the development of eight lots on the same property faced opposition from neighbors and other members of the public and was rejected by Planning and Zoning in 2018. At the time, the commission said the plan did not comply with specific regulations for subdivisions.
Now, attorney Liz Suchy along with engineer Tom Quinn of Peak Engineers and landscape architect Kate Throckmorton, presented what Suchy said was an application in which “all of the lots, in our opinion, comply with the requirements of a subdivision of the town of Wilton.”
Suchy went through painstaking detail to articulate the point, as well as to describe how the application has already passed muster with the Wilton Conservation Commission and the Inland Wetlands Commission. She reviewed the number of homes that would share access off of a common drive, as well as the efforts the developer would take to preserve existing and mature vegetation as well as to respect abutting properties’ sight lines, taking into consideration concerns neighbors had with the 2018 application.
What’s more, the engineer Quinn explained that he has worked with the town’s engineer, fire marshal and Department of Public Works to make sure that everything complies with any requirement the town may have, including extensive planning for drainage and water release quality.
He also noted that the Health Department has already approved the proposed locations for septic and well systems, and any required adjustments requested by the other departments are being made, so that he expects all town departments will eventually give approval.
Suchy mentioned that the largest parcel being left undeveloped would remain vacant and be considered a “non-buildable lot.” However she explained that nothing would prohibit the developer from potentially seeking to develop it at a later time.
“Should there be any proposal in the future to develop that lot, to subdivide it or the like, the applicant would be required to return if you and be required to return to the Inland Wetlands Agency for whatever it proposes to do. But right now it is to remain vacant,” she said, adding, “I think you can gain comfort in the fact that, number one, we have to return to you and Inland Wetlands, but also you can make that a condition of approval.”
Would be “Difficult to Deny Application” This Time Around
Suchy was explicit in reinforcing how the application met the standards and requirements set under Wilton regulations, both for a subdivision and for the zoning where the property is located. This was specific and important.
At the request of P&Z chair Rick Tomasetti, Wilton’s new town planner Michael Wrinn explained to the commissioners and public that standards for approving a subdivision application is different than an application for a special permit or site plan review. Denying the application would be difficult.
“If you end up meeting the requirements–you’ve got the frontage, you’ve got the acreage, you’ve got the lot configuration that applies to the standards, you’re pretty hard pressed not to be able to come up with conditions of approval in order to approve. Denial on a subdivision is a high standard, you got to show something drastically is wrong with this,” he said.
Examples he gave would be if an application didn’t have an engineer, or didn’t have approval from town departments. “But if you have something that has been vetted by all your professionals or staff departments here and it does comply with the regulations, you have to take a hard look and see what’s wrong that you can’t approve it with conditions.”
Conditions could be imposed as part of the approval, however, on elements including maintenance of drainage, bond guarantees on the improvements, engineering certifications, etc.
“But as far as conditions on the lots, as long as they comply, you’re in the area of pretty tough to deny those,” Wrinn reiterated.
Later in the meeting, in response to several questions from members of the public, Suchy was more pointed and assertive in her reminder about what being compliant with the regulations meant–both to the commissioners and the public.
She noted that the applicant isn’t required to explain certain choices–for example why the seven-acre open space was located on one side of the parcel versus the other; all the applicant is required to do is provide it.
Suchy reminded the commissioners that their ability to deny the application is limited.
“Keep in mind that in acting you act on a subdivision application, you’re acting in an administrative capacity, and you are limited to the regulations before you and whether or not the lots proposed meet those regulations. It’s unlike other applications where you act in a judicial capacity and you have more discretion. Just keep that in mind as you’re going through the documents,” she said.
The commissioners asked several questions.
Tomasetti asked about the largest parcel that Suchy had explained would be left as open, non-buildable land. She explained that it would not be accessible to the public, and that only the residents would be able to access it. At this time, she said, there are no further plans to develop it, and there would have to be a separate, new application brought before P&Z to do so.
Suchy and Quinn answered other questions, noting that a plan for a 30,000 gallon fire cistern met the requirements set by the fire marshal, and that Polito Builders would develop, construct and be responsible for sales of the homes on the lots.
“That’s part of their business, and they take great pride in the quality of the product they produce,” Suchy said.
Quinn said that based on requirements from the fire marshal, additional adjustments might be made to the width of the driveway to accommodate emergency vehicles. In addition, the question of materials that would be used to do so–whether to use pavers and gravel–is being considered for concerns about drainage and water runoff.
Because significant portions of the lots are wetlands, Throckmorton said that the plan has been developed “very specific to the wetlands approval conditions.”
For the first public hearing, there were a only a handful of comments from the public.
Patti Frisch, a Wilton resident acting as legal representation for a neighbor whose property abuts the development close to where the lots are proposed, asked about how the decision to locate the seven-acre open land was located. Suchy later responded that the applicant wasn’t obligated to explain the choice, only provide the open space as part of the application, and ensure that the percentage ratios meet the open space requirements for subdivisions and R-2 zones.
Another neighbor, architect Barbara Geddis Wooten, noted that she was “generally very favorable” to the application but had some smaller questions about specific details on the plan related to driveway placement as well as the size of one lot that seemed smaller than the others.
Suchy later responded that all of the lots meet the requirements for the two-acre zone–and that some exceed it at three acres. “You may not like the configuration, you may not like what it looks like, but again, it meets the requirements,” she said.
Cannon Rd. neighbor Sarah Curtis pointed out that early in the presentation Suchy had mentioned that the existing stone walls on the property were being maintained and improved; Curtis noticed, however, that on one of the maps provided in the application a substantial portion of one stone wall bordering one of the lots no longer appears.
Suchy conceded that Curtis was correct, and that a portion of the stone wall would be removed–something approved by the Inland Wetlands Commission. She added that any stone removed from the wall will be used elsewhere on the site, and that other sections of stone wall would be improved.
The biggest objection to the proposed application came from Peter Gaboriault–a neighbor with land abutting the 55-acre property who is also the president of the Wilton Land Trust. Gaboriault, who also happens to be a residential property developer, said he believed the applicant wasn’t being completely open about his intent to eventually build on the vacant, “non-buildable” lot.
“The applicant is being a little less than forthcoming about future development of the back lot. I think before they sell any approved lots, they’re going to redraw the lot lines and put a town road, and come back to you,” he said, adding, “They’re not going to give up all that acreage. This is really phase one of a two-phase development plan.”
Later on, Suchy responded that the commission needs to consider only the plan as proposed now.
“This is the plan before you, this is the plan you have to evaluate, not some future eventuality that has no bearing on this application before you. The lots meet the requirements, [the large parcel] is a parcel, and the town attorney has indicated this is nothing untoward indicating that as a parcel and identifying it as such,” she said.
Gaboriault also noted that the prior application denied in 2018 had as part of the plan that 45 acres was going to be donated to the Land Trust.
“That was a huge loss for us, that was going to be free, and now it looks like it’s going to be developed,” he said.
Suchy later said that her client would be “more than willing” to talk with the Land Trust. “I can’t guarantee anything will come of that, but perhaps something in the future may emerge.”
The hearing was continued to the commissions next meeting on Feb. 24.