The Greater Wilton Center Area Master Plan Subcommittee held a special meeting last week with executives from Kimco and the team of architects designing the redevelopment of the company’s Wilton Center Campus. Kimco had presented earlier iterations of this plan to several members of the subcommittee as part of a series of pre-application hearings with the Planning & Zoning Commission, in which applicants can present preliminary plans and receive non-binding feedback from the Commissioners.
The meeting began with Town Planner Michael Wrinn acknowledging the unique nature of Kimco’s property within Wilton Center and saying it was “wise to look at this individually.”
The company is seeking 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 more than a year and a half ago, and has undergone significant changes based on feedback from the Commission in December, May, June, and November.
As Nicholas Brown, Vice President of Development for Kimco, would outline, the Wilton Center Campus along River Rd. spans 20.5 acres and nearly 300,000 square feet of retail and office space, in a district where the average lot size is under one acre. Zooming out, Kimco controls 47% of the privately owned properties in Wilton Center as a whole. He framed his presentation as sharing a “real time test case” of the master plan’s draft regulations, informed by feedback from the Kimco design team.
Envisioning a subdistrict for properties over a certain size, or possibly more narrowly limited to Kimco’s specific lot, Brown outlined eight areas where the company would like to see zoning exceptions made.
Some of these requests, such as the right to position parking in front of interior buildings that do not face the public streetscape, were met with little resistance from the subcommittee. The matter of building height, a topic of ongoing debate throughout the master plan process, came up once again, with Kimco pushing for the right to a fifth story.
“At some point, you have to put in enough apartments to get someone to lend you money,” engineer Craig Flaherty said.
Kimco’s request that the town allow landscaped sidewalks and mini or “vest-pocket” parks along one of its interior roadways to count toward the new civic space minimums reopened discussion about Kimco’s former tenant, Bow-Tie Cinema, which ceased operation in March 2020.
“As soon as the movie theater left, we were no longer a destination,” said Rick Tomasetti, Chair of P&Z and the subcommittee. “I almost want to say, how much bonus area do I need to give you to get us a theater? What attractions can you bring here and what bonus do you need from us as a community to make it economically viable for you? For Kimco, those are the civic spaces we need, not just a vest pocket park.”
Brown quickly dismissed the theater concept, specifically. “The theater industry is struggling, to put it mildly,” he said. “The way people are consuming media is completely different — people are at home watching Netflix.”
He reminded the subcommittee that Kimco had brought on a replacement tenant for the space, Prospector Theater of Ridgefield, and that the company backed out of the deal due to the economics.
“It’s not realistic to think of a new theater development,” he concluded.
Before the meeting concluded, several Commissioners pushed back on Kimco, challenging the quality of the designs being presented, even after four pre-application reviews.
“My biggest concern is that I think we’re looking at very generic architecture,” said Subcommittee Member and P&Z Commissioner Chris Pagliaro. Alluding to a reference Flaherty made earlier in the evening comparing the proposed campus to Baywater Property’s Darien campus, he added, “Craig, you brought up the Corbin District. These are vastly different projects—this is not a village.”
Brown replied, “I don’t think we can realistically expect to come back with multiple buildings on River Rd., it’s not the same rent as would be attained in Darien.”
“No offense to Mr. Brown but put him on the sidelines,” said Tomasetti. “The architects have to lead this. I understand there is a budget, but there is also a marketplace and people pay more for better architecture.”
Brown agreed to “take the handcuffs off” the architects working on the project and thanked the subcommittee for their time once again. As the meeting drew to a close, Brown asked for more clarity about the remaining timeline of the master plan process.
The next meeting of the master plan subcommittee has not been scheduled, but Tomasetti noted that the members would meet themselves once or twice, before getting back to the consultants.
Of the schedule of meetings, he said, “We’re kind of right now on an as-needed basis. I can’t tell you how many more meetings we’ll have before going back to the consultant. Our goal here is to ramp it back up and wrap it up as soon as we can. We’re definitely behind… but we’re pretty close.”
A really excellent way to encourage more development in Wilton Center as a retail / entertainment destination would be to give those businesses more customers by building more high-density housing within walking distance, but somehow nobody on P&Z seems to be making that connection.
Welcome to Merritt 7! Ugly, flat-roofed monstrosity! “Generic architecture” is spot-on. No gables, no dice should be P&Z’s response. Ugh!
No zoning exceptions should be made for anyone who privately owns 47% of Town Center.
Movie theater was never going to work, especially from the high rent Kimco apparently charges. Art House or Experimental niche films, maybe, but rent would need to be dirt cheap to symbolic $1 a year to be viable. Performing Arts Center would be most flexible option, but the facility should be a public/private partnership like Wilton Library, ideally as an independent property.
If we build it, they will come. Our retailers want more customers, our residents want more shops, and the whole town wants more tax revenue so we can have that dog park and ice rink we all dream of. Wilton could then attract the home buyers we currently lose to surrounding towns that do have more amenities.
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