Conservation Commission Seeks Changes to Landscaping Practices in Wilton

Photo: Pixabay

Over the last several months, Wilton’s Conservation Commission has been considering ways to encourage — or in some ways, to regulate — improved landscaping practices on private and municipal properties.

At its most recent meeting on May 4, the Commission reached agreement on a Pollinator Pathway resolution that would “encourage” certain landscaping practices at residential, commercial and Town-owned properties.

The Commission also reached a consensus on recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) for updated regulations related to general landscaping, landscaped buffer areas between residential and non-residential properties, and other types of screening (such as for parking lots, loading areas, refuse storage areas, and ground-fixed mechanical equipment).

It is important to note that the Commission serves in an advisory capacity to P&Z; it does not have the authority to enact or enforce any regulations. But consistent with its mission to promote sound environmental practices, the Commission, led by Chair Jackie Algon, feels strongly about the importance of the measures it plans to recommend to the Town.

In their most recent deliberations, commissioners carefully weighed their desire to achieve positive environmental outcomes with the potential risk of going too far and stoking opposition by residents, local businesses or Town leaders.

The discussions can be seen in the recorded Zoom meeting video posted on the Town website.

Pollinator Pathway Resolution

During the May 4 Commission meeting, Algon offered a reminder that Wilton has been a leader in the Pollinator Pathway, as the first of many towns in a network designed to encourage pollinator-friendly native plants. Such plants provide the habitat needed for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators to survive and thrive.

Algon was referring to the fact that it was a Wilton resident, Donna Merrill, who first laid the groundwork for the Pollinator Pathway in 2017. Today, pathways have been established in over 200 towns in the Northeast region, according to the Pollinator Pathway website. (Read more about the pathway’s origins and members here.)

The Conservation Commission has spent recent months reviewing what other proactive towns have resolved to do in regard to the Pollinator Pathway. Drawing on what Wilton’s commissioners saw as desirable aspects of resolutions created in other towns — including Newtown, New Canaan, Norwalk and Fairfield, CT; Hastings-on-Hudson, NY; and Orleans, MA, among others — the Commission then drafted a resolution for Wilton.

Commissioners say the resolution will serve as a “statement of support” or “guidance” to the entire community, and not just for landowners but for landscapers and landscape designers who provide services in Wilton.

Fundamentally, the resolution encourages more pollinator-friendly landscaping practices in four ways:

  • reducing lawn size by converting areas to predominately native plants and eradicating invasive species
  • protecting and enriching soil using organic, not synthetic, yard-care products; avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides
  • following “best practices” for garden cleanups (such as allowing plant heads to remain through winter)
  • providing clean water sources for wildlife

Some towns have made resolutions that go further than others. At the May 4 meeting, commissioners debated how far Wilton’s resolution should go.

New commission member David Silvia‘s reaction to the draft resolution was that it was “onerous in some respects” for “the average person to participate” or to glean what exactly they should or shouldn’t do.

Silvia also questioned how the public would become aware of the Commission’s guidance, giving an example of signs he saw in Norwalk promoting “no mow May,” which refers to the practice of postponing lawn-mowing in the spring to allow pollinators time to emerge from their winter habitats.

The draft resolution considered by the Commission included “no mow May” among the examples of best practices.

Environmental Affairs Department Director Mike Conklin noted there could be complications with that type of recommendation, such as potentially coming into conflict with sports fields that are managed by the Town and must be mowed for those activities.

“This could turn into a polarizing thing,” Conklin said.

Commission Vice Chair Frank Simone added that landscaping businesses that depend on spring cleanups might also be displeased with the recommendation.

Simone preferred guidance that stopped short of calling for a no-mow May, but still included “good prompts for town folks to focus on without being overwhelmed.”

“If we give too grand of a resolution to the Board of Selectmen, I think we are going to end up shooting ourselves in the foot,” Simone said.

Algon and other commissioners were agreeable to including slightly less ambitious language in the final resolution.

Algon stated her intention to approach First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to discuss the Commission’s final resolution, but echoed Simone’s concern that it could be met with some resistance.

“I’m going to talk to Lynne Vanderslice about this,” Algon told the commissioners. “I think there is some concern about whether Wilton wants to have this resolution at all, giving advice to residents.”

“However, I would like to see us push it forward as a commission,” Algon said. “We can at least move it forward to the Board of Selectmen and they can decide what they want to do about it.”

She noted that having a Pollinator Pathway resolution in Wilton could count as points for Sustainable CT certification. Wilton is currently certified at the bronze level but must reapply for certification in August 2022.

The Commission’s final resolution is expected to be posted on the Town website, but was not yet posted at the time this story was published.

Landscaping, Buffer and Screening Regulations for P&Z

In addition to discussing the Pollinator Pathway resolution, the Commission finalized a set of recommendations it hopes the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider when updating Town regulations.

Essentially, for projects subject to site plan review by P&Z, the Conservation Commission is advising P&Z to modify the existing landscaping standards to emphasize native trees, shrubs and ground cover. For example, where current regulations call for “appropriate varieties” of trees or plantings, the Commission would like to see the regulations specify “appropriate native varieties.”

If adopted by P&Z, the native plant requirements would apply to “any new or replacement plantings, including trees, shrubs, grasses, ground covers and herbaceous perennials.”

According to the draft, native plants are defined as those that live or grow naturally in the Northeast region without human intervention.

As P&Z updates its regulations, Algon remarked that it was “a great opportunity for us to put in our two cents worth about how we feel the Town should be using native plants and not invasive plants.”

The Commission is also suggesting that P&Z should consider specific minimum requirements for municipal properties.

“Due to the high wildlife value of native trees, 100% of new and replacement tree plantings on municipal properties will be native to the Northeast. New and replacement shrubs will be a minimum of 85% natives for municipal properties. New and replacement grass and ground cover plantings will be 100% native for municipal properties. New and replacement herbaceous perennials will be a minimum of 75% native for municipal properties.”

Algon called the specific standards “very defensible” and in line with regulations some other towns have adopted.

The Commission indicated it would forward its recommendations to Wilton’s Director of Land Use and Town Planner Michael Wrinn. The proposed regulation is expected to be posted on the Town website, but was not yet posted at the time this story was published.

Want to register your property on the Pollinator Pathway? Look for registration information on the Pollinator Pathway website.

Not sure what’s native and what’s invasive? The State of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has detailed information on its website.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think it makes sense for the most overregulated town in the country to continue to add unnecessary and confusing guidelines so P&Z can fine people for trying to make THEIR property look good. At some point homeowners need to speak up and say I shouldn’t need a consultant to cut down or plant a tree.

    This is why I sold my house in Wilton

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