Nobody puts baby in a corner, but for decades Wilton Center put her up on the second floor. On Monday, Sept. 11, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted to eliminate a section of the Wilton Center zoning regulations that forbid dance studios from operating on the first floor of commercial buildings.

The request was brought by MCL Piersall, owners of several buildings in Wilton Center. In July, the group filed a request for a zoning text amendment to eliminate Paragraph O (“Studios of dance, photography, graphic design, painting, or similar artistic endeavors.”) from the list of prohibited uses on the first floor.

“This paragraph is a vestage [sic] of times past and is not reflective of the modern needs of Wilton Center,” the group wrote in the application. It went on to assert that second floor space is more appropriate for medical and financial offices and that a prospective tenant who is interested in opening a dance studio strongly prefers one of Piersall’s first floor spaces.

In June, GOOD Morning Wilton spoke with that would-be tenant, Manuel Trillo, a veteran instructor, competitor and Spanish TV personality. Trillo had hoped to open the doors to Arosa Ballroom Dance Studio at 44 Old Ridgefield Rd. in July, but the long-standing prohibition tripped up his plans.

Three members of the public testified in favor of Piersall’s application, including local architect Barbara Geddis, who is also a member of the Greater Wilton Center Area Master Plan subcommittee.

“This seems obvious,” she said “We look for vibrant, robust uses at the ground floor. Let’s get more of them.”

Peter Squiteri, Vice Chair of the Economic Development Commission, added, “Having more artistically inclined uses on the first floor would be a big benefit to the town.”

The ultimate vote was unanimous and Paragraph O is no more. Trillo is now eyeing an Oct. 1 opening date for his ground-floor dance studio on the south side of the Piersall building.

So that takes care of dance studios, but what else can’t you do on the first floor of a building in Wilton Center? Five categories of activity are still prohibited:  

  • Social Service Agencies and philanthropic, benevolent or charitable organizations;
  • Civic associations, fraternal organizations or social clubs;
  • Other membership organizations such as business or professional associations, labor organizations or political organizations;
  • Radio or TV broadcast facilities; and
  • “General offices,” although any office that was in place prior to 1998 is exempt.

At the suggestion of Commissioner Chris Pagliaro on July 10, the master plan subcommittee will be asking consultants BFJ Planning to weigh in on whether Wilton Center’s prohibited activities list needs any further updates like this change. Although P&Z is preparing to introduce new zoning regulations for Wilton Center via the master planning process, those new rules will function as an overlay, allowing property owners to choose between abiding by the current, existing zoning or opting into the newer, more progressive regulations. The current regulations will remain in place, particularly for existing building owners whose properties already conform to them, and they must be kept updated. The next meeting of the subcommittee is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Looking Ahead

Before concluding the meeting, the Commission looked ahead at two regulatory matters coming up for discussion on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

First, the town’s one-year prohibition on cannabis businesses expires in October. This will be the third year the matter comes before P&Z, and in both 2021 and 2022, the hope had been that by extending the ban for an additional year, more data might emerge about the impact of cannabis businesses opening in other parts of the state. The Commission agreed to add the topic to the next meeting’s agenda and then plan on a public hearing to be held on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Second, Wilton’s restaurant owners may soon get clarity on Wilton’s long-term plans for allowing outdoor dining. Since 2020, P&Z has authorized outdoor dining through a temporary permitting process, which the Commission has extended each year (most recently in May). Although the move was inspired by Covid-era precautions, the change has proven popular and in the words of Chair Rick Tomasetti, “It’s time to codify this.” He noted that restaurateurs are eager to receive formal regulations ahead of the spring dining season. This too will appear on upcoming agendas.   

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