ELECTION 2021: Meet the Candidate — Jill Warren, Planning & Zoning Commission

Bio

Jill Warren is currently the youngest member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. A first-year law student with a bachelor’s degree in human biology from Cornell University, Jill brings a unique blend of public health knowledge and a passion for advocacy to Wilton. At Cornell, Jill founded a Victims and Survivors Association within her sorority and served on the university’s Greek Judicial Board. Following graduation, Jill worked as a paralegal for a firm that helped provide justice to lead-poisoned children. Jill is deeply committed to preserving the town’s small-town charm while fostering appropriate and healthy growth. She has continued to advocate for greater housing diversity and increased affordable housing while on the Commission. Jill looks forward to continuing to help Wilton achieve its fullest potential.

Op-Ed

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission. I initially ran for P&Z because as a young person, the limited housing options [in Wilton] were simply astonishing. It surprised me that a wonderful and charming town had so few options for younger residents and empty nesters. Today, two years later, this still mostly rings true, despite several steps in the right direction.

During the pandemic, Wilton experienced an influx of people. The Town not only welcomed a diverse group of newcomers but also celebrated the return of many millennials to the town that raised them. Seemingly overnight, the housing market increased, and supply decreased almost as quickly. Our community began to thrive again.

It was during this sudden population increase that the lack of housing diversity only became more obvious to people in my age category. Older millennials who were in the financial position to purchase a house had the option to stay in Wilton. However, for younger millennials, the options were (and still are) few and far between. I watched many younger people who had returned to Town during the pandemic move back to NYC or to some of our neighboring towns (like Norwalk) because they could not secure housing here unless they wanted to stay with Mom and Dad. There’s nothing wrong with living with your parents, but for a young professional attempting to grow their own roots, it is hardly ideal.

Part of this starts with affordable housing. There is “affordable housing” in a statutory sense, and there is “affordable” housing in a reasonable sense. Many younger people, especially following the pandemic, cannot afford “luxury,” NYC-price competitive apartments. Even “affordable housing” in a statutory sense is priced for households at 80% of the median area income. In Wilton, that figure is still well over six figures, unrealistic for many younger people. It is extremely clear to me that Wilton has the means to create housing that is affordable in both a statutory and a reasonable sense. I am committed to pushing developers to do so.

As a Commission, we have taken several steps in the right direction to increase housing diversity. Not long after I was first elected, we removed the special permit requirement for accessory dwelling unit applications. This may seem like a small feat, but it allows homeowners to have a little more control over the Town’s development. Part of Wilton’s charm is its small-town, country-living feel. As someone who lives in a cottage, it is very clear that accessory dwelling units positively contribute to this atmosphere, in addition to increasing housing diversity. They also allow both younger people and empty nesters to remain in Town and have a space to call their own, without living in a tiny apartment (millennials) or having to live in a house that no longer suits their needs (empty nesters).

Of course, part of the challenge Wilton still faces is large-scale development. The need for affordable housing is clear, but, understandably, many residents are afraid of massive buildings and traffic disruptions. This is where developers must be creative. It is more than possible to create affordable housing and respect the rhythm of the Town. This could mean the construction of townhome communities, condos, and the like in areas where such development is appropriate. In addition, this could mean the redevelopment of underserved properties, especially those along Route 7. One of my favorite applications thus far was the Hollyhock Rd. property, where we approved the redevelopment of a commercial building into apartments, some of which are to be designated as “affordable.” It was a fantastic example of working with what we have — something developers can and should do more often.

To this point, Wilton is home to a wonderful array of trails, open space, and other natural amenities. It is imperative that developers are held to a high standard in order to minimize environmental impact. Future developments should complement the natural features we cherish as a community without making environmental sacrifices. My scientific background enables me to wholly assess such risks and hold these developers accountable.

I have treasured serving on the Commission and pushing the Town to be better. There is far more work to be done in terms of master-planning certain zones, creating more affordable housing, protecting the environment, and continuing to bring in a beautifully diverse group of residents. There are so many people and businesses who can and will help us achieve our fullest potential. We just have to provide the means.

I hope everyone will head to the polls on Nov. 2. I ask, as a fellow Wiltonian, that when you vote, you consider what we have: a rich sense of community with so much to offer, and so much that must be preserved.