Easy P&Z OK for Painted Cookie’s New Wilton Center Location but Kimco Wants Speedier Answers for Redevelopment

The latest 21 River Rd. rendering submitted to the town by Kimco for the pre-application hearing.

The Monday, Nov. 14 meeting of the Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission focused on two projects — one minor and straightforward, and the other major and complex — that may soon change the face of Wilton Center.

With Chair Rick Tomasetti absent, Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini chaired the meeting, beginning with an announcement that the planned hearing for the new LDS Meeting House at 241 Danbury Rd. had been continued until Monday, Nov. 28, because the applicants needed additional time to prepare materials for the Commission.

Painted Cookie Celebrates a Milestone and a New Location

The evening began with a brief presentation by attorney Kathleen Royle about the Painted Cookie’s application to reconfigure 1,000 square feet of retail space at 101 Old Ridgefield Rd. into a storefront restaurant space. The site, which formerly housed the Sunshine Foot Spa, has been vacant since 2020.

The Painted Cookie is owned by Wilton resident Susan Schmitt. Attorney Royle told the Commission that the business is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and hopes to mark the occasion by moving into this larger, more centrally located space with greater pedestrian traffic.

Town Planner Michael Wrinn explained the somewhat unusual nature of Wilton’s zoning code for businesses like this one. “If you serve food, you’re considered a full-service restaurant. This is considered ‘fast food’ because it’s being consumed in hand or in paper or with a paper plate, something like that.”

The Commissioners had no major questions about the proposal, with Vice Chair Rotini calling the application, “relatively straightforward.” During a brief public hearing, resident and local architect Barbara Geddis expressed support for the project and called on the Commission to explore better wayfinding and signage for businesses located in what she called “the back of the town green.”

Later in the evening, the Commission voted to approve the Painted Cookie’s application for a special permit.

Kimco Returns with New Renderings, Draft Amendments, and a Request

The second and final project discussed during the meeting took up considerably more time than the prior application. Kimco returned for a fourth pre-application hearing on its plans to redevelop the southern portion of its Wilton Center campus. After years of widespread vacancy, Kimco has presented plans to raze the existing structure at 21 River Rd. and construct a 160-unit multi-family residential complex on that site and a portion of the existing parking lot. The proposal was first presented to P&Z 11 months ago and has undergone significant changes based on feedback from the Commission in December, May, and June.

Nicholas Brown, Vice President of Development for Kimco, opened by explaining that although prior meetings had focused on the building design and architecture, tonight the group would be presenting preliminary language for zoning amendments that could facilitate the project as Kimco envisions it.

However, he placed the evening’s discussion in the context of a larger decision he said Kimco will soon face. “You’ve challenged us to improve our design and we’re all in a better place for it,” Brown said. “But we’ve invested a lot of time and money, and during that time the buildings we’re discussing have remained vacant. Tonight we’re respectfully requesting a little more direction — we’re looking to the Commission to hear whether this is a project that in broad strokes you’re supportive of.”

Engineer Craig Flaherty of Redniss & Mead went through a preliminary presentation on the zoning amendments Kimco is considering proposing. These changes would tweak Wilton’s existing zoning regulations across a series of parameters including allowable density, building height, and setbacks, and codify the role of mixed-use development in Wilton Center.

Vice Chair Rotini spoke first in response, calling out the major complication facing the proposal: the Greater Wilton Center Master Plan is nearing the end of its year-long process, which will bring with it significant changes to zoning regulations in the area.

“Overall, I have a general concern with respect to our proximity to completion with the master planning. I don’t think what you’ve put together necessarily reflects what our current position is. And I’m also very worried about making changes and then a month later going back and changing it all over again, and potentially having issues there.”

Brown conceded that the team had spoken with Wrinn about this concern. “We had this discussion about you being near the finish line. We’re not worried about waiting two or three months while you’re finishing the [master plan]. But does it linger to six months? Nine months? That’s putting the property owner in handcuffs.”

However, the updated renderings (which feature a partial brick facade, significant setbacks for the fourth and fifth floors, and curved corner element) were met with a warm reception from the Commission.

“This is the one I like the best of what you’ve shown us,” Rotini responded.

“This is a major leap forward. You guys are getting where we’re coming from,”  Commissioner Chris Pagliaro said.

“Thank you for listening to us and working with us,” Commissioner Eric Fanwick added.

The Commissioners went on to share ideas and questions about a range of elements of the proposal, particularly the number, location, and alignment of on-site parking spaces. As the discussion began to wrap up, Brown brought the topic back to Kimco’s request to hear something more definitive about the timeline and next steps for submitting a formal application.

“I don’t believe the Commission is going to want to change their zoning regulations for any project coming up, if they have a master plan coming that will look to change those regulations once again,” said Wrinn.

Rotini conceded that waiting for the completion of the master plan is a gamble, but she noted that the new regulations resulting from the process may in fact be more beneficial to Kimco than the existing zoning.

“If it’s a few months to complete the master plan and we can file an application, that’s one thing,” Brown replied. “But if it lingers for four, five, six months, and then you want to proffer your own regulations after that, that becomes untenable. We’re trying to be patient and listen but we also have pretty important financial decisions to make.”

Wrinn wrapped up the conversation by reiterating that “everyone wants to get this right — both the Commission and the public.”

Looking Ahead

The P&Z subcommittee managing the master plan process is expecting to review new form-based zoning regulations from consultants BFJ Planning in a meeting today, Wednesday, Nov. 16. There is also a meeting of the new Amenities Master Plan Subcommittee scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 22.

The next regular meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 28, and is expected to include presentations on both the LDS Meeting House and another significant development coming down the pike in Wilton Center: the proposal for a new 32-unit multifamily residential building at 12 Godfrey Place.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have lived and worked in Wilton since 1963. I am watching our wonderful town slowly die and wither.
    We have builders interested in developing the town into something more than the ghost town it is becoming.
    The master plan is taking too long to develop and will continue to shutter and close. Please put more time into getting this done so that we can build a thriving and wonderful town to live in.
    We are losing property taxes that will pay for the benefits of living here.

  2. I agree with Ms Dix’s comments. However, the latest renderings would be fine for the modernization and redevelopment of an industrial area but really look out of place for our town center. I hope that is not the look that is being envisioned in the master plan.

  3. I second Ms. Spohn critique of the plans. These flat-roof buildings are deeply unattractive and will not age well. As for Kimco’s distress at having vacant spaces, they’ve been vacant for a long time, mostly because of Kimco’s own decisions. The town shouldn’t be bullied by Kimco, or anyone else, especially regarding such a large project.

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