What do we want Wilton to be?

Every 10 years, Wilton residents get to create the blueprint for what course the town will chart when its Plan of Conservation and Development is updated. But, say town officials, the update can’t be successful unless as many people as possible take part in the process to begin sharing their vision for the future of Wilton.

The public’s first opportunity to provide input is at the Wilton 2019-2029 Plan of Conservation and Development: Kick-Off and Public Workshop on Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Wilton High School Cafeteria.

That’s where the Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission, together with a Joint Working Group of town board representatives and experts from consultant Milone and MacBroom, Inc., will begin looking for community input to answer the question about what residents want Wilton to be.

The Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) comprehensively defines the community’s long-term vision and offers goals and objectives on land use, growth, conservation and community investments to guide local decision making and policy over the next decade. Wilton’s town planner, Robert Nerney, is encouraging residents to attend the workshop meeting next Thursday.

“It’s an important process. I just hope it’s well-attended and constructive. It really is an opportunity to take ideas and mold them into a plan that will serve as a basis to move forward with actual policy. It’s a great opportunity for people to have their voices heard–and also have constructive conversation with neighbors that may have a different view,” he says.

Hearing from as many community members as possible throughout this planning process, which begins now and is expected to conclude in spring 2019, is critical, so that the wide variety of views can be considered.

“I hope the conversation is diverse. Not only the citizenry of Wilton but the stakeholders–people who have interests in our environment, preserving our ecological resources, and balancing that with our need for housing. As a community we have an obligation to try to provide a diverse array of housing opportunities. It often comes down to questions of, Where? How much is appropriate? Where is the balance between preservation and growth?” Nerney says.  Among the likely topics will be open space, preservation, public facilities, recreational needs, educational needs, economic development, zoning changes, housing, telecommunication, transportation and utilities, and will also possibly break down into looking at different areas of town–Wilton Center, South Wilton, Georgetown, Cannondale, and more.

The meeting will be run a little differently than a public hearing or an Annual Town Meeting, with the usual microphone at the front of the room for resident comments. Instead next Thursday’s workshop will be less formal with “stations” around the WHS Cafeteria for attendees to visit to register their ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ and take part in discussion–something akin to a “charette” process, Nerney says.

“I think it’s more engaging than just getting up and people just methodically giving their views on things. The idea is to drill down and get some meaningful dialog.”

Nerney notes that the last time the town updated the POCD, turnout was good–at least a couple hundred came to that POCD’s first meeting, and he hopes to see similar numbers of residents involved from the start for this new Plan.

“Last time people were very civil. It’s bringing ideas to the table,” he says, like a community brainstorming. “It will also form the basis for more specific topic surveys and discussion as the process continues over the next year.”

Nerney hopes residents will again see the possibilities that lie in front of the town, if residents put their heart into the POCD update as they did 10 years ago. Take, for example, the Wilton Center improvements that were accomplished after the last POCD process focused attention and recommendations for more public investment in the town’s main business district, as well as other examples that Nerney highlights.

“The lighting, the sidewalk program, the memorial–all those projects got done. We got the funding for the bridge [from the train station] and a great design–unfortunately we were a little short on construction money, but I think in time it will happen. One other recommendation–the town formed an Economic Development Commission. And significant open spaces were obtained–the Keiser property, and other pieces as they became available. The Norwalk River Valley Trail. The list just goes on,” he says.

Nerney has faith in Wilton residents, and says that in the more than 15 years he has worked for the town, he has come to realize the potential that can be realized when Wilton residents cooperate and contribute.

“Wilton is a town that is blessed with a lot of smart people. That’s a resource–people always talk about Wilton’s greatest asset being the schools. I respectfully disagree; I think it’s the intellectual knowledge of the people in this area, and their willingness to give of their time to share their talents with the community,” he says. “That’s what makes Wilton a great place.”

The Feb. 8 Kick-Off meeting will definitely not be the last opportunity for public input either. The P&Z Commission will hold several monthly Public Workshops and online survey exercises to evaluate community and strategic planning issues, such as housing, Route 7 and transportation, community facilities and infrastructure and sustainability, among others. The workshop schedule and format will be discussed at the Kick-Off meeting and will be posted on the Plan of Conservation and Development website.

In addition to that website, which is devoted entirely to the POCD process, town officials have created several other ways for residents to keep up-to-date with the POCD process:  there is a Wilton POCD Facebook page, and they’ve also pledged to be proactive with publicity and disseminating information through GOOD Morning Wilton, as well as other local media.