Wilton Center’s new master plan came one big step closer to reality on Tuesday, Dec. 6, as the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) subcommittee overseeing the effort received the initial draft of new regulations that may soon govern development downtown.

As discussed at the previous subcommittee meeting, the new zoning overlay for Wilton Center proper will be a form-based code. In contrast to more traditional zoning, a form-based code focuses on the physical shape of buildings and their relationship to the public realm. This model tends to encourage mixed uses (where residential and commercial spaces are co-located together), pedestrian connectivity, and the cultivation of a sense of place.

In contrast, a more traditional zoning model, like the one currently in place in Wilton Center, primarily emphasizes a separation of uses and one-size-fits-all guidelines for building height and bulk, setbacks from the street, and parking requirements.

A zoning overlay does not change the underlying zoning of an area. What it does is create a secondary set of zoning regulations that property owners can opt into. For instance, an overlay can offer owners the right to build taller, more dense buildings in exchange for incorporating public elements into the project, such as public plazas, additional affordable units, and sustainable design elements.

Jonathan Martin presented the draft Wilton Center Overlay District on behalf of BFJ Planning, explaining that the evening’s discussion would spotlight this area and that the draft overlay presentation for Route 7/Danbury Rd. would follow next week.

The meeting took place at a time when the discussion around Wilton’s Master Plan process has been repeatedly referenced by other municipal boards and in connection to other issues the town is considering — notably in development proposals from large property owner Kimco (Wilton River Park Shopping Center at 5 & 21 River Rd.) and Wilton Lofts (12 Hubbard Rd.), as well as in conversations around possible state legislation governing affordable housing and transit-oriented development.

A Sneak Peek into Wilton Center’s Future

The new form-based code divides Wilton Center into five distinct street frontage types, with roughly the following boundaries:

  • FR-1, Primary Mixed Use (Old Ridgefield/River Rd. between Rise Doughnuts and Kimco)
  • FR-2, Secondary Mixed Use (The western branch of Old Ridgefield Rd. between Ridgefield Rd. and Rise Doughnuts)
  • FR-3, Mixed-Use Neighborhood (Hubbard Rd. and the eastern branch of Old Ridgefield Rd. leading to Ridgefield Rd.)
  • FR-4, Riverfront (Along the Norwalk River from Ridgefield Rd. to Schenck’s Island)
  • FR-5, Pedestrian Pathway (Between Old Ridgefield/River Rd. and Schenck’s Island)

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Martin shared a chart demonstrating that each of the five zones identified above gives property owners a choice between types of allowable building facades or “lot frontages.” For instance, a new building being proposed in the FR-1 zone would be able to choose from either a pergola or arcade design at the ground level of its street-facing façade. A new building being proposed in the FR-2 zone, on the other hand, would have those frontage types as well as the option to place a storefront or office space at the ground level. The 10 lot frontage types proposed by BFJ Planning for Wilton Center are: storefronts, professional (offices), pergolas, arcades, stoops, porches, terraces, lightwells, Riverwalk, and landscape.

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The new overlay will allow four-story construction throughout Wilton Center, with an optional fifth story that must be set back an additional 10 feet from the street. This fifth-floor bonus would only be granted in exchange for the project providing certain public benefits. Martin also went through new parking requirements for the area, which will encourage the creation of “shared” parking spaces that serve both residential and commercial visitors.

The Subcommittee Response

In the interest of time and recognizing the complexity of the proposal itself, the subcommittee agreed to send detailed comments in writing and focus the evening’s discussion on high-level topics only. Still, what comments were shared suggested that the members were pleased with the presentation and that no major overhauls to the proposal would be needed.

Rick Tomasetti, Chair of both P&Z and the subcommittee, opened by clarifying to the public that the goal of the zoning overlay, “is not to build five-story buildings across Wilton.” Instead, he said, the intention of the density bonus is to bring a degree of flexibility and variety to building heights in Wilton Center. Tomasetti also proposed that the new overlay require 10% affordable housing for all future residential buildings and that projects making use of the density bonus be required to provide a higher percentage of affordable units.

Kicked off by a comment from Subcommittee member Chris Pagliaro, the group discussed the Kimco site and whether a separate, dedicated street frontage type would be more appropriate for it. Among other reasons, the significant depth of the site makes the proposed minimum and maximum distances between a building and the street seem out of place. He also posed that some study should be done into road width and its effect on the scale and experience of building height, citing Washington, D.C.’s model as an example.

Subcommittee member Barbara Geddis brought up the question of whether to incentivize the adaptive reuse of historic buildings as part of the zoning overlay. The subcommittee agreed the topic was worth discussing further. “It just should be addressed,” she said. “Because there are a lot of people in the public who believe our downtown is historic — which it really isn’t. Maybe 1930, with the Barringer Building. But it’s not truly historic.”

Pagliaro agreed, “Old doesn’t make it historic.”

Looking Ahead

The Subcommittee members asked again about the possibility of a 3-D model to illustrate the potential build-out this new overlay would make possible. Frank Fish from BFJ Planning clarified that the firm certainly could create the model, but it would be an added cost as it is not included in the project’s current scope. Tomasetti agreed to discuss the matter with Town Planner Michael Wrinn.

The Subcommittee will reconvene on Thursday, Dec. 15 for a presentation and discussion of the other geographic half of the Greater Wilton Center Master Plan study area: the section of Route 7/Danbury Rd. extending from Wolfpit Rd. up past the intersection with Pimpewaug Rd.

A public hearing on both overlay proposals is expected to be scheduled in January or February 2023. This will be the second public hearing in the master plan process. The first public hearing, held on March 31, was covered by GOOD Morning Wilton.