As part of GOOD Morning Wilton‘s coverage of the elections for the 2019 municipal elections, we have set out guidelines inviting each candidate to submit one 800-word op-ed piece before Election Day. Jill Warren is a Republican candidate for the Planning and Zoning Commission.

My name is Jill Warren and I am running for Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Since 2015, I have had the privilege of calling Wilton my home. My family moved to Wilton from Southern California and loves the history and unique culture present throughout the town. Of course, the fall foliage and winter snow are an added bonus. Wilton allows for the enjoyment of a pleasant, peaceful, laid-back way of life that is absent in Norwalk, Westport, Redding, and other towns nearby. Its proximity to NYC is desirable, but it is far enough away that one does not feel bombarded by the noise and bustle of city life. This is one of the many reasons why I sought to remain in Wilton following my graduation from Cornell University this past May.

As a 21-year-old recent college graduate, I began searching for an apartment close enough to home that I could visit my parents for dinner but far enough away that I could plant my own roots and start to live my new life as a young professional. Ideally, my new apartment would be near one of the two train stations so I could hop on the train and head to NYC for work or a night on the town. It would be somewhere near a sushi restaurant, maybe, or a burger place where I could meet my friends for dinner after work. Additionally, this ideal apartment would be just the right size–maybe a studio, maybe a reasonably-priced one-bedroom or a two-bedroom I could split with a friend. Potential added bonuses:  historic building/atmosphere, proximity to the river and access to Wilton’s beautiful trails.

My apartment search results:  a few developments that were miles outside of my price range and two developments with extremely limited availability. As an entry-level litigation paralegal, I could hardly afford even the cheapest unit in one of the latter developments. In fact, according to a recent article from CNBC, the average recent college graduate makes about $48,000. Assuming rent accounts for one-third of one’s monthly income, this places the “average” starting rent at $1,333. The cheapest rent my search produced was $1,485 for a one-bedroom.

This startled me (to say the least). Wilton’s historicism and rich sense of community need to be maintained; how can I help preserve the town that I love when it is inaccessible to my generation?

The answer:  growth.

As a product of master-planned Southern California, there is nothing I desire less than chain cafés on every corner and busy stoplights clogging up my morning commute. However, because I am from a master-planned region, I know that implementing a master-plan for Town Center including the establishment of mixed-use buildings could effectively bring in millennials and increase revenue and economic development for local businesses. I can guarantee that if I were able to live above a nice, locally-owned Mexican restaurant, a large portion of my paycheck would be dedicated to said organization.

Thoughtful development of higher-density housing would further attract millennials. While the two-acre zoning should be protected, changes in some locations are necessary in order to allow Wilton to withstand the growth that it desperately needs in order to survive. In order to attract customers to local businesses, there needs to be the convenience of sidewalks and proximity to living quarters. An influx of diverse residents would greatly benefit the town economy.

To many young professionals who work in NYC, an apartment near the train station would be ideal. Norwalk and Stamford provide several options, and Wilton does not. The few options Wilton does provide are, as mentioned, wildly expensive, and at that point, millennials would save significant monies by living elsewhere. This means less money brought into Wilton’s restaurants and shops, resulting in less economic growth.

In addition, the town provides few options to empty-nesters. The housing market in Wilton is not flourishing, and people tend to move away once their kids finish school. The fact of the matter is that Wilton’s main attraction is its great school system. To millennials and empty-nesters, this no longer applies. Increasing the population size and establishing different housing options, whether it’s apartments, townhouses or condos, would decrease property taxes. Lower taxes means a greater drive to stay in Wilton, and higher-density housing would bring in the younger generation. This would increase the span of time one resides in Wilton and contributes to the local economy.

I am a 21-year-old Wilton resident who knows exactly what millennials are looking for in a place to grow their roots. Rick Tomasetti, Melissa-Jean Rotini, and Matt Murphy have the experience necessary to push the Planning and Zoning Commission into 2029 with flying colors. I provide a glimpse into the millennial mind; I represent the generation Wilton needs to attract in order to survive. Vote for my voice.

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