The first meeting of the new Planning and Zoning Commission session on Monday evening, Dec. 13, was busy with matters both administrative and substantive. The packed agenda — and the decisions made by the Commission on the applications as well as how to handle the workload — represent how pivotal P&Z will be in the coming era of development in Wilton.
The meeting kicked off with the election of officers. Rick Tomasetti and Melissa-Jean Rotini were unanimously re-elected as chair and vice chair, respectively. Eric Fanwick was unanimously elected recording secretary, replacing Doris Knapp, who along with Peter Shiue concluded their terms of office on Nov. 30. The Commission welcomed newly seated members Kenneth Hoffman and Christopher Wilson, who were elected to the Commission last month.
The commissioners agreed to an expanded schedule of meetings in 2022. In addition to regular bi-monthly meetings, they will convene for one additional meeting per month in January, February, March, and August, in light of the growing queue of projects under consideration. The start times of meetings will also be pushed up to 6:30 p.m. in 2022.
The Commission then moved on to a full agenda of projects and in several cases, voted to approve applications that same night. Two projects expected to be heard were postponed to January: a special permit to allow an addition to the 1795 Samuel Olmsted House at 518 Nod Hill Rd. and a site development plan for 200 Danbury Rd. to allow for alternate signage and phasing of the project.
ASML Expansion at 77 Danbury Rd.
In one of several appearances during the meeting, Gregory and Adams attorney Jim Murphy presented on behalf of the applicant ASML, which is seeking an expansion of its employee cafeteria and improvements to loading docks. This expansion, more than 20,000 square feet in total, will be placed at the back of the site, largely out of view from the street.
Crucially, he noted that the addition is not intended to change business practices in any way. Employee population and delivery schedules will remain the same. “We are simply seeking to improve existing space to meet existing needs,” Murphy told the Commission.
Tomasetti declined a presentation on the interior design of the addition, noting that, “This Commission is mainly concerned with bulk, area, volume, etc.”
Commissioner Christopher Pagliaro asked for more explicit disclosure of the status of the flood zone and lowest floor elevation once the addition is made. Jim McTigue, engineer on the project, noted that although the addition will encroach on the flood plain, the building will stay well below the 50% threshold to trigger mitigation requirements. Pagliaro noted the importance of creating an accurate and complete record because these projects will return to the Commission in the future.
“We’re trying to build a record of work done in the flood zones in town, something that — frankly — has not been monitored in the past. I want it put into the record so that the next time we see a special permit for this site, we have something to reference.”
Tomasetti noted that the proposal includes screening to disguise mechanicals, but he brought up the number of visible mechanical units currently present on the northeast corner of the property.
Murphy responded, “I don’t want to hold the project up over something not required. We want to be in compliance but screening is very expensive. Reluctant to commit to that at this time.”
Tomasetti and Pagliaro both noted that when ASML applied for the special permit, the company opened itself up to scrutiny of the entire site.
Upon further reflection, Murphy agreed that screening additional mechanical equipment on the site could be “baked into any proposal the Commission would consider.”
Later that night, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the special permit allowing the building addition, with the inclusion of language requiring screening of rooftop mechanicals throughout the site and the creation of a record about flood zone encroachment.
Replacement Aquifer at 210 Danbury Rd.
Larry Webster of the Alfred Benesch & Company presented plans to replace two underground storage units at the Shell gas station at 210 Danbury Road. Connecticut DEEP requires that tanks be replaced when they approach the end of life. Upon applying for a building permit to complete the replacement, the applicant discovered that a past tenant had received a special permit but failed to complete the site changes required by it. In order to move forward with the tank replacements, the company must complete the requirements of the previous special permit, including the installation of a sidewalk. Completing this work will require the gas station to temporarily shut down.
Rotini focused her comments on an internally illuminated sign on the property, which would not be permitted by Wilton’s current zoning. She inquired about whether the sign had been approved by P&Z at any point.
Tomasetti responded that illuminated signs had once been allowed in Wilton. “It might not have been overtly approved by the Commission, it might have been allowed based on regulations in the past.”
There were no comments from the public. Upon deliberation, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the special permit.
Parking Waiver for Gateway Shopping Center at 14 Danbury Rd.
The owners of the shopping center at 14 Danbury Rd., which includes Michael’s and TJ Maxx, requested a new parking waiver of 20% fewer parking spaces than required by Wilton’s regulations, rather than the 13% waiver currently in place. Gregory and Adams attorney Casey Healy, representing the applicant, shared a traffic study that showed the shopping center to be significantly overparked, with the current parking lot only reaching 40-60% capacity on average throughout the year.
Healy noted that having to return to the Commission for new parking waivers has made securing a tenant difficult for his client because the delay leaves time for interested tenants to secure space elsewhere.
“We have two restaurant tenants interested right now; one is very interested. In this market, if I tell them I need months to apply for a parking waiver, they will find somewhere else to move.”
The Commission briefly discussed whether more pedestrian walkways or sidewalks would increase safety within the parking lot, but all agreed that the Gateway Center is overparked.
The commissioners voted unanimously to empower staff to craft the parking waiver and approve it on the Commission’s behalf.
Stamford Junk Pros Eye Taylor Rental Property
The most contentious presentation of the evening was a pre-application hearing for a company interested in purchasing the property currently operated by Taylor Rental, 378 Danbury Rd.
The applicant introduced Stamford Junk Pros as a family-owned, full-service junk removal and container rental company interested in a special permit to allow the property to function as a contractor’s yard.
“I don’t want to say we’ve been evicted, but we’ve been asked to leave five or six places because the properties were sold,” said the company’s representative. “We want to own, not rent, a place to store our trucks.”
Junk Pros removes furniture, appliances, household junk, and other non-hazardous items and brings them directly to landfill. Any items deemed salvageable are separated out and donated. The applicant stressed that the building itself would not be used for storage of any kind of salvaged materials, apart from a few tools.
Town Planner Michael Wrinn opened the discussion period by noting that whether materials would be stored overnight is of great impact in this application.
“We need to make sure this doesn’t become a storage yard,” he said. “Every indication from the applicant is that that’s not the plan.”
The commissioners were not convinced.
Chair Tomasetti spoke first. “Currently this is more of a retail rental location. The area in the back is not well maintained or desirable, but I’m concerned you’re viewing this as a contractor yard. It really isn’t — it’s retail with some outdoor storage.”
He noted skepticism about the applicant’s claim that the company has no plans for using the building on the site. “No one invests in a facility and leaves it empty. At some point, that building will be occupied.”
“I’m sorry but this is a waste transfer station and you’re a hauler,” Vice Chair Rotini said. “If this came before us, I would want to see a complete environmental review. This is right next to the Norwalk River.”
Commissioner Hoffman noted that if Junk Pros is separating recyclables and donatable items from the garbage, that sorting has to happen somewhere.
The applicant asked, “What happens in a nice town like Wilton if a property like this that has been on the market a long time becomes abandoned because the owner can’t sell it?”
Tomasetti rejected the idea that safeguarding appropriate uses on a site like this would necessarily mean it lies vacant and fallow. He named several possible uses that could make sense on the site, including a showroom/retail sales center, the expansion of one of the existing neighbors, or even tearing down the existing building to create a more useful structure.
“This is an area of town that attracts visitors. When we talk about appropriate uses, we have to be very careful,” he said. “The uses we grant through special permits represent us as a community — this doesn’t represent us well.”
Looking to Darien and Next Steps
The commissioners also heard a pre-application presentation from Kimco affiliate Wilton Campus, which seeks to build a new 158-unit multifamily development along River Road. This discussion will be covered separately this week due to the complexity of the application.
Before the meeting closed, Wrinn suggested all commissioners read a recent article about the Corbin District in Darien, What towns all over CT need to have — can Darien blueprint be duplicated?
Most of the commissioners will reconvene on Thursday for the orientation meeting to begin Wilton’s long-awaited Master Planning Process. The next regular meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission will be Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.