Wilton’s Board of Selectmen demonstrated progress on a lot of Town business at Tuesday night’s (Sept. 20) BOS meeting. Matthew Knickerbocker, Wilton’s newly installed Town Administrator, was also in attendance.

Strong Pond Dam Removal

Environmental Affairs Director Mike Conklin appeared at the meeting to discuss the latest development in the Strong Pond Dam removal project.

Strong Pond Dam (also known as Dana Dam or the Merwin Dam) is located on a stretch of the Norwalk River in Merwin Meadows. In addition to being a barrier for migratory fish, the dam also poses a potential flood threat to the nearby Metro-North Railroad infrastructure and even Wilton Center.

Planning for the dam removal has been in the works since 2018, in partnership with the non-profit, Save the Sound. As GMW previously reported, Save the Sound received grant funding for the dam removal.

Laura Wildman and Anthony Allen, representing Save the Sound, and Michael Chelminski, an engineer with Stantec Consulting, were also present at the meeting.

Conklin presented the draft Memo of Understanding (MOA), a legal agreement between the Town of Wilton and Save the Sound, for the next phase of the project.

“We have completed Phase 1, which was to repair the low-level outlet,” Conklin told the selectmen. “Now we’re ready for Phase 2, which is the actual, huge dam removal.”

After raising questions about the project timeline — which Conklin conceded had slipped from the original schedule for 2022 due to COVID-related delays in the permitting process and other issues — the board unanimously approved a motion for First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to authorize the MOA.

Proposed Cell Tower 

The selectmen heard an update from Vanderslice on the proposed Verizon monopole cell tower located near the Bus Barn on School Road.

A “red balloon test” was initially planned by Verizon as part of the application process, to assess the tower’s visibility throughout the Town. However, due to a helium shortage, a crane was used to raise the balloon for the test.

Vanderslice explained that photos were taken from multiple locations throughout the Town as part of the “visibility analysis.” Those photos will be forthcoming for the Town to review.

Vanderslice reported that she and Wilton Fire Chief Jim Blanchfield had driven around Town to see the test for themselves, but she could only see the crane from within the Bus Barn complex.

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Economic Development Commission

As part of an ongoing reconsideration of the role of Wilton’s Economic Development Commission (EDC), Vanderslice offered the selectmen a brief overview of similar commissions in surrounding towns.

Westport, New Canaan, Darien and Weston have no such commission, she said. In contrast, Ridgefield stood out as an exception, with an “extremely active” and sizable (and growing) commission. Fairfield also has a large commission, though it is somewhat less active than Ridgefield, according to Vanderslice.

Vanderslice then summarized her recent discussions with the Commission at the EDC’s September 14 meeting. She conveyed that the EDC:

  • Wants more direction from the Town
  • Prefers to be assigned tasks
  • Is willing, within certain parameters, to do some work to advocate for (or against) development projects
  • Will continue some of its current activities, including its social media efforts, working with Wilton High School, and conducting events such as business owner forums

Fundamentally, Vanderslice says, the Commission should not be seen as the primary economic driver within the Town government.

“They do not see themselves as a driver of the Grand List,” Vanderslice stated. “If you go back to 2014 when [the EDC] was formed, it was formed to be a driver.”

As such, Vanderslice is recommending a change in the BOS’ expectations for the Commission.

“The takeaway from all this is we need to adjust our expectations,” Vanderslice said. “I think we’ve been over-expecting from a group of volunteers. We need to dial back on how we think [the Commission is] going to impact the Grand List, or market [the Town], or even support the POCD.”

Vanderslice proposed that going forward, the EDC would operate under the supervision of the First Selectwoman, with specific tasks assigned, but with the flexibility to pursue other initiatives as the commissioners wish.

“It was a good meeting,” Vanderslice told the selectmen. “I think when we left the meeting everyone felt a little better” about the EDC’s redefined role.

The first task Vanderslice would assign would be to research and develop recommendations for signage regulations for Wilton businesses, to be submitted for consideration by Planning and Zoning. That topic has recently been hotly debated by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“BOS Priorities”

Selectman Bas Nabulsi will be taking the lead on a BOS effort to take stock of progress made by various boards and commissions on Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), which was adopted in 2019.

“The POCD contemplates that there be a reconvening of the various parties that were involved in the POCD development to assess where they are, to discuss any obstacles that have been encountered, and make any adjustments that are necessary, to bring to life as best we can what was in the POCD,” Nabulsi said.

Nabulsi, a former P&Z commissioner and a key participant in the 2019 POCD process, added he was “happy to get that ball rolling.”

“The action steps that are appropriate to get the ball rolling would involve going back into the POCD… to identify what each of the commissions and boards in the Town was tasked with doing, and asking each of them to review where they are in terms of these various assignments.”

“What we’re hoping to get out of the process… is a status report, a renewal of commitment, and an updated set of tasks,” he said.

Nabulsi added that the process itself could be “invigorating” for current boards and commissions — especially those members who weren’t part of the original POCD process — to re-focus on the goals and aspirations that the Town-wide effort established in 2019.

Nabulsi thought that process could take at least 2-3 months.

Budget Guidance 

Vanderslice also updated the selectmen on the Sept. 13 Board of Finance (BOF) meeting, in which the BOF discussed her request to provide budget targets in advance of the FY2024 budget planning process, which will begin in earnest as early as January. GOOD Morning Wilton is reporting that news in a separate story today.

Other BOS Business

  • While only discussed in executive session, the board discussed a CT DOT lease for property at Allen’s Meadow. No details were publicly discussed.
  • Director of Human Resources, Labor Relations and Administrative Services Sarah Taffel and Wilton Fire Chief Jim Blanchfield briefed the board members about a union grievance filed by a firefighter pertaining to the carryover of personal leave. The grievance was then discussed in executive session. The board voted unanimously to reject the grievance.
  • The BOS appointed Bill Lalor as a Wilton Library Association (WLA) trustee and re-appointed Christine Wachter.